The California Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday adopted new regulations aimed at ensuring autonomous vehicle manufacturers stick to stricter guidelines when conducting tests of autonomous vehicles on public roads in California.

This is partly due to recent fatal incidents involving self-driving vehicles. An Uber self-driving car fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, while a Tesla X Model vehicle was involved in a fatal crash while on semi-autonomous mode.

California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 38750 requires the DMV to adopt regulations governing both the testing and public use of autonomous vehicles on California roadways. The DMV has three autonomous vehicle permit options. A manufacturer can apply for:

  • a testing permit, which requires a driver
  • a driverless testing permit
  • a deployment permit

Concerns about the safety of the public during testing of self-driving cars, especially when the vehicle is in semi or full autonomous mode, informs the necessity for holding manufacturers to a higher level of accountability.

Listed in the requirements for autonomous testing of vehicles on California public roads is a stipulation for the presence of an autonomous vehicle test driver who is “either in immediate physical control of the vehicle or is actively monitoring the vehicle’s operations and capable of taking over immediate physical control.”

It is important to note that the recent fatal crashes had drivers present in the vehicles during the incidents.

There is also a provision for autonomous vehicle manufacturers who wish to test vehicles without a driver physically in the car at the time of testing. One of the requirements is for a “process to display or communicate vehicle owner or operator information as specified in Vehicle Code section 16025 in the event that the vehicle is involved in a collision or if there is a need to provide that information to a law enforcement officer for any reason.”

Uber decided not to reapply for its self-driving permit in California, after its expiration on March 31.