The California Public Utilities Commission has issued a proposal that could potentially clear the way for companies engaged in autonomous vehicle development and deployment to offer rides to the general public without the need of a safety driver to be present in the vehicle. The Commission regulates utilities that include TNCs.
California already has rules issued allowing for autonomous vehicle testing without drivers; these rules took effect this week.
The Commission’s proposal augments these rules as issued by the state’s department of motor vehicles to include greater safety protections for passengers. AV companies would be cleared to do more testing of vehicles.
The proposed California rules require that companies hold an autonomous vehicle testing permit from the DMV for at least 90 days before picking up passengers. The service must be free—companies are not allowed to accept payment from passengers. Also passengers must be 18 years or older and no airport trips are allowed.
The proposal also mandates that companies file regular reports to regulators including the number of miles their self-driving vehicles travel, rides they complete and disabled passengers they are serving.
How this will boost safety protections for passengers is, as yet, unclear.Critics have cited the incident in March in Arizona when a safety driver-assisted Uber AV struck and killed a woman as a counterargument to removing human oversight from AVs on public roadways.