For years, high-profile companies in California have been testing and developing the technology for fully autonomous vehicles. In other words: self-driving cars. The most high-profile of these companies is Google. Many Californians in and around Silicon Valley have encountered these vehicles, which drive more courteously and safely than most humans ever could.
Because of these innovations, it has long seemed likely that California would be among the first states to fully embrace self-driving cars. But a recent proposal by the state Department of Motor Vehicles could significantly hinder these plans. The DMV recently proposed rules limiting the testing and deployment of self-driving vehicles, including a suggested requirement that “autonomous vehicle operators . . . be present inside the vehicle and be capable of taking control in the event of a technology failure or other emergency.”
To be sure, it is a good idea to have human back-ups in the driver’s seat while these vehicles are being tested. For the most part, that is precisely what Google has done. But should human drivers be a required back-up at all times, even after the technology proves to be safe? This may seem prudent, but some believe it could actually be more dangerous.
It is human nature to divert attention away from mundane tasks that we do not need to focus on. Chances are good, then, that most people won’t be paying attention to driving when they ride in a self-driving vehicle. Being asked to suddenly pay attention at a critical moment could easily result in disaster.
The merits and potential pitfalls of self-driving vehicles must be an ongoing discussion. Hopefully, it is a conversation that will continue in California throughout 2016 and beyond.