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Business

March 16, 2014

California pushes to finish driverless car rules

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California is trying to do something unusual in this age of rapidly evolving technology — get ahead of a big new development before it goes public.

By the end of the year, the Department of Motor Vehicles must write rules to regulate cars that rely on computers — not the owner — to do the driving.

That process began Tuesday, when the DMV held an initial public hearing in Sacramento to puzzle over how to regulate the vehicles that haven’t been fully developed yet.

Among the complex questions officials sought to unravel:

How will the state know the cars are safe?

Does a driver even need to be behind the wheel?

Can manufacturers mine data from onboard computers to make product pitches based on where the car goes or set insurance rates based on how it is driven?

Do owners get docked points on their license if they send a car to park itself and it slams into another vehicle?

Once the stuff of science fiction, driverless cars could be commercially available by decade’s end. Under a California law passed in 2012, the DMV must decide by the end of this year how to integrate the cars — often called autonomous vehicles — onto public roads.

That means the regulation’s writers will post draft language regulations around June, then alter the rules in response to public comment by fall in order to get them finalized by the end of 2014.

Three other states have passed driverless car laws, but those rules mostly focus on testing. California has mandated rules on testing and public operation, and the DMV expects within weeks to finalize regulations dictating what companies must do to test the technology on public roads.

Those rules came after Google Inc. had already sent its fleet of Toyota Priuses and Lexuses, fitted with an array of sensors including radar and lasers, hundreds of thousands of miles in California. Major automakers also have tested their own models.

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