Tech Transformers

Has California slammed the brakes on driverless cars?

California proposal could slow down Google's driverless car

California's proposal to make driverless cars have someone at the wheel are "perplexing" and could hamper the progress of the technology, Google said on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) proposed draft rules that would require a licensed driver "to be present inside the vehicle and be capable of taking control in the event of a technology failure or other emergency".

In a blog post published late Thursday, Google's head of self-drive division, Chris Urmson, slammed the decision. "This maintains the same old status quo and falls short on allowing this technology to reach its full potential, while excluding those who need to get around but cannot drive," Urmson wrote.

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"While we're disappointed by this, we will continue to work with the DMV as they seek feedback in the coming months, in the hope that we can recapture the original spirit of the bill.

"California is a state with both world-class car culture and world-class innovation, and we can do better."

California has been one of the most accommodative states in regards to driverless cars. In 2012, legislators passed a bill that allowed self-driving cars to operate with or without a driver and since then, Google claims to have driven its vehicle over 1.3 million miles. Google said the California DMV "seemed to shrink back from its leadership" with its new proposals.

A key concern for users and regulators is the fact that its driverless prototype has no steering wheel or pedals -- in spite of the U.S. search giant's regular reassurances of the safety of its cars. In its monthly report on its self-driving car project for November, Google explained how its cars have built up a "library of various sirens" and taught its software to identify them, so when an emergency vehicle approaches, the cars will "drive more conservatively until it has a better sense of where the sirens are coming from.

Google also said that its vehicle had been involved in "17 minor accidents" in six years of the project but never been the cause of one.

Other proposals from the California DMV include third-party testing of the vehicles and the obligation for manufacturers to alert the operator of a car to a cyber attack.

Two public consultations about the laws are being held early next year.