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Driverless car safety concerns postpone release of new rules for cars of the future

A Google self-driving car is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California.
A Google self-driving car is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California.
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The wait for the green light on driverless car sales in California will continue, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. California’s DMV will miss a year-end deadline to adopt a new set of rules for driverless cars and other cars of the future because there’s still no certainty that driverless vehicles are safe. DMV officials say they first have to know if these cars will obey traffic laws, whether control can be given back to human drivers smoothly, and what happens when the car’s computers freeze or malfunction. Self-driving cars are still several years away from being on new car lots, but several companies are testing prototypes on California’s roads.

As of right now, there seem to be three options for the DMV: following the current U.S. system and allowing manufacturers of driverless cars to self-certify for safety, go the European route and have independent companies verify safety, or the state itself could get into the testing business.

Federal transportation officials say there are no plans to write standards for driverless car safety anytime soon and that they don’t want states to write their own. However, the direction California officials choose could very well influence the path that other states and even the federal government take. California has been able to take the lead on this thanks to one of the state’s signature companies, Google, which has been pushing for laws and regulations on driverless cars for several years.

How high should the safety standards be for self-driving cars? Would you buy one if you were assured that they are as safe, if not safer, than a regular car? What do you think is the future for driverless car safety?


Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at the technology analysis firm Gartner. His work focuses on predicting the future business and technology implications of automotive, connected/autonomous vehicles and mobility innovations.

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