California pushes to finish driverless car rules

LOS ANGELES – California is trying to do something unusual in this age of rapidly evolving technology – get ahead of a big new development before it goes public. By the end of the year, the Department of Motor Vehicles must write rules to regulate cars that rely on computers – not the owner – to do the driving.

That process began Tuesday, when the DMV held an initial public hearing in Sacramento to puzzle over how to regulate the vehicles that haven’t been fully developed yet.

Among the complex questions officials sought to unravel:

How will the state know the cars are safe?

Does a driver even need to be behind the wheel?

Can manufacturers mine data from onboard computers to make product pitches based on where the car goes or set insurance rates based on how it is driven?

Do owners get docked points on their license if they send a car to park itself and it slams into another vehicle?

Once the stuff of science fiction, driverless cars could be commercially available by decade’s end. Under a California law passed in 2012, the DMV must decide by the end of this year how to integrate the cars – often called autonomous vehicles – onto public roads.

That means the regulation’s writers will post draft language regulations around June.