California doesn’t know what safety standards to adopt with driverless cars

Who should certify the safety of driverless cars? California is considering this question:

DMV officials say they won’t let the public get self-driving cars until someone can certify that they don’t pose an undue risk. The problem is that the technology remains so new there are no accepted standards to verify its safety. Absent standards, certifying safety would be like grading a test without an answer key.Broadly, the department has three options: It could follow the current U.S. system, in which manufacturers self-certify their vehicles; it could opt for a European system, in which independent companies verify safety; or the state could (implausibly) get into the testing business…

Manufacturers generally would prefer self-certification. That may be where California ends up, but for now the DMV is exploring independent certification — something that doesn’t exist for driverless cars.

In July, the DMV asked third-party testers whether they’d be interested in getting into the game. The department doesn’t have the expertise to create a safety standard and testing framework, so “the department wanted to get a very good sense of what is out there in the market,” according to Russia Chavis, a deputy secretary at the California State Transportation Agency, which oversees the DMV and requested a deeper exploration of third-party alternatives to self-certification.


I can’t imagine California or another US state allowing corporations to do this on their own. Perhaps it would be allowed if they agreed to provide generous payouts if their products failed? Yet, given the hubbub about Toyota and its stuck pedals as well as the Takata air bag scares, this is a public safety issue.

I wonder what the public would want. Americans like progress and like cars. But, there would be some fear regarding the safety of driverless cars until they have some sort of independent certification. And how would Google’s reputation these days affect perceptions of these cars?

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