Google’s self-driving car needs a steering wheel, California says

A well-established part of the self-driving car narrative is that, when it comes to mass adoption of robo-cars, regulations will be a tougher hurdle than technology.

California highlights the issue. The Golden State was among the first to explicitly legalize self-driving test cars, but it won’t let Google’s autonomous prototype onto public roads, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The car, introduced earlier this year, doesn’t have a steering wheel or pedals, and that’s the problem.

New rules adopted by the California Department of Motor Vehicles require a driver to take “immediate physical control” of a vehicle on public roads. That’s hard to do if there’s no steering wheel.

This isn’t a problem for the other cars in Google’s fleet, which are modified production vehicles that retain all of their manual controls.

Related: Nissan’s self-driving car for 2020 won’t be fully autonomous

However, the purpose-built prototype was meant to demonstrate the extent of the technology’s effect on car design, and to showcase how a human driver could be completely eliminated.

For now, Google will add a temporary set of controls to its prototype. The tech giant expects to begin testing on private roads next month, with public-road testing to follow.

By then, California may introduce new rules that allow test cars to traverse public roads without steering wheels or pedals.

Velodyne, which supplies the lasers that help Google’s car see, is also hoping California revises a current requirement for $5 million of insurance on test cars. It believes the liability burden will raise the cost of its equipment by thousands of dollars.

It’s easy to blame regulations like this on America’s lawsuit-happy culture, but treating malfunctions like acts of God isn’t the right thing to do either. Mechanical issues will almost always have a human cause, even if finding it is complicated.

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