Apple, others want to tweak California's self-driving car rules

The input, posted online by the DMV, includes suggestions by Lyft, Tesla, Uber, Waymo and dozens of others.

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Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
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4 min read
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Apple , Alphabet's Waymo, Tesla and dozens of other companies would like some changes to California's self-driving car policies.

The companies -- along with dozens of other organizations like Lyft , Uber , and -- submitted comments to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which were then posted online. The suggestions range the gamut from deciding when a driver should have to take control of the autonomous vehicle to recommending paying customers be allowed to ride in self-driving cars.

The DMV told CNET that it's currently reviewing the public comments received on the proposed autonomous vehicle regulations. If it decides to make changes to its regulations, it will hold a 15-day public comment period for organizations and individuals to weigh in.

Autonomous car technology has become a big focus for companies such as Google and Uber, and speculation about Apple's self-driving car plans have been swirling for months. It's unclear whether the company wants to build an autonomous vehicle of its own or if it wants to power the infotainment and other systems of a car. Apple obtained a permit earlier this month to test self-driving cars in California.

Apple -- in its letter signed by Steve Kenner, its director of product integrity -- said it's "investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation." It wants to see changes to three California policies related to "disengagement reporting," definitions, and testing without safety drivers.

Apple's letter

One of Apple's criticisms focused on current and proposed disengagement reporting requirements, which explain when a driver has to take control of the self-driving car. Apple said the metric isn't transparent enough to make consumers comfortable with the technology. The company believes the correct metric for evaluating automated vehicles should include data on successfully prevented crashes and traffic rule violations.

Watch this: Google's Waymo wants you to test its self-driving cars

California's current regulations would make companies detail how many times humans had to take over control of the system because of a system failure or traffic, weather or road situation, according to Reuters.

Apple wants disengagement to be defined as "an unexpected event or failure that requires the safety driver to take control of the vehicle in order to prevent a crash or traffic violation." It also said disengagements shouldn't be reported for system errors or failures, the end of a test or experiment, or several other scenarios.

The other two changes Apple requested relate the definition of development vehicles and testing without a safety driver.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other comments

Waymo, the self-driving car company owned by Alphabet, had some issues with regulations related to driver v. no driver as the key distinction, the definition of "remote operator," liability, and information privacy.

"We're encouraged by the DMV efforts to develop regulations for autonomous vehicles that would help California remain a leader in the development of self-driving cars," Waymo said in a statement. "Waymo looks forward to deploying this life-saving technology in the state."

Tesla, whose founder -- Elon Musk -- wants to make self-driving semis and buses, argued that vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds shouldn't immediately be banned from testing or deployment on public roads. It also said it shouldn't be prevented from selling a non self-driving car that previously was tested as an autonomous vehicle.

"This prohibition appears to have been written without consideration for vehicles that were used as autonomous test vehicles but contain only production hardware and, once loaded with production software, are indistinguishable from production vehicles," the company said. "This is the case with many Tesla autonomous test vehicles."

Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

2016 Tesla Model S 60

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Uber, meanwhile, said paying members of the public should be able to ride in autonomous test vehicles with drivers. The ride-sharing service got in trouble with California late last year for putting self-driving cars on the road and for picking up paying customers without permission of the DMV.

Within hours of the self-driving car launch in San Francisco in December, California's DMV told the company it was breaking the law and needed to halt the program until it got a permit. Uber refused to back down and said it would keep the cars on the road. After a week of back-and-forth between Uber and the DMV, along with an intervention from California's Office of the Attorney General, the DMV announced it was revoking the registration of 16 of the company's autonomous vehicles.

Uber didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Uber's main rival, Lyft, said language requiring autonomous car companies to notify local authorities about tests is "ambiguous" and could create confusion and delays in the testing process. It proposed that the DMV could operate a webpage where manufacturers could post notices regarding their proposed testing areas. "Such a website would not only streamline the notice requirements, but also increase public access to this information," it said in its letter.

Lyft didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Car laws

The state of California has been working on autonomous vehicle regulations for nearly two years. In mid-December 2015, it released its first draft for review. In September 2016, it released its revised draft. After taking into account feedback, California published its latest proposed regulations on March 10, which set off a 45-day public comment hearing.

Along with big tech companies, other commenters during that time included insurers, car dealers' associations, "a concerned citizen" and Fathers Against Drunk Driving.

The DMV plans to summarize and respond to all comments when it submits its regulations to the Office of Administrative Law for approval. If the OAL approves the regulations, they become law that go into effect 120 days after their approval. The DMV estimates the regulations could be in effect by the end of November, a spokesperson said.

Reuters earlier reported the news.

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Update at 4:30 p.m. PT to add comment from Waymo.