California wants autonomous cars to have steering wheels

Autonomous vehicles have no need of steering wheels or pedals, and Google has developed cars without them. It's good that Google hasn't deployed a vast fleet of such vehicles, because the California Department of Motor Vehicles has issued new rules that would seem to require a steering wheel and pedal.

The rule in question requires that an “autonomous vehicle test driver…a natural person seated in the driver's seat of an autonomous vehicle…” must be “…capable of taking over immediate physical control.” The rule doesn't mention steering wheels or pedals explicitly, but The Wall Street Journal reports that Bernard Soriano, the top official developing the rules for the state, says that the “immediate physical control” phrasing does indeed make steering wheels and brake and accelerator pedals mandatory.

Google plans to comply with the new rules by deploying a temporary steering-wheel and pedal system. The Journal quotes Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne as saying, “With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features, while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary.”

Google announced in May that it is building about 100 prototype autonomous vehicles, and the company is pursuing commercialization of such vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles face several roadblocks with respect to social and legal issues. See, for example, “Beware autonomous machines making decisions” and “It's time to clarify autonomous-vehicle laws.”

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