Apple, Tesla Weigh In on California Self-Driving Car Regulations

Both Apple and Tesla want to make changes to proposed California self-driving car rules.

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Apple and Tesla are both asking California to make changes to the state's proposed self-driving car rules, which could put either company in a more competitive position and change the autonomous-car landscape significantly.

 In a letter to state officials, Apple suggested changes to draft rules that would result in the release of more self-driving car data to the public, reports Reuters.

Apple's letter focused on reporting of "disengagements," or instances when a car's autonomous systems deactivate due to malfunctions or road, traffic, or weather conditions that the car cannot handle without human assistance. California already requires companies to report how many times these disengagements occur, but Apple wants to the new rules to go a step further.

The tech giant wants California to require reporting of more minor instances of human intervention, such as when a driver takes over to prevent a traffic violation. Apple also wants officials to clarify wording related to the definition of "autonomous vehicle" under the rules, and about what types of vehicles need the special permits California doles out to allow testing of self-driving cars on public roads.

An Apple self-driving car prototype was recently spotted on public roads in Silicon Valley, proving that Cupertino's on-again, off-again car project is on again.

California was one of the first states to explicitly legalize autonomous-car testing, which was a boon to companies because it clarified the legal situation surrounding those vehicles. However, companies chafed at an initial requirement that all test cars have a set of manual controls, and Uber got into a fight with the California DMV last year over the permitting process for autonomous vehicles. That forced Uber to temporarily relocate its California test fleet to Arizona. It now splits the cars between the two states.

Apple wasn't the only company to comment on the newly-proposed California self-driving car rules. Waymo, Ford, Toyota, Tesla, and a host of other companies submitted comments as well. As the home of Silicon Valley and a government that's fairly supportive of the technology, California has become a hotbed for autonomous-car testing. Any changes made to its testing rules could have an outsize impact on the field.

For its part, Tesla said California should not bar testing of prototype autonomous vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or more, a move the automaker said could "stifle innovation." That weight cap wouldn't affect passenger cars, but it would affect commercial vehicles. 

Tesla plans to unveil an electric semi truck in September, and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine the company trying to apply its autonomous-driving tech to the big rig. In his updated "Master Plan" for Tesla, Musk also mentioned a vehicle that would essentially function like an autonomous bus, but with riders hailing it using an app instead of waiting at bus stops.

In addition, both Waymo and General Motors made comments related to liability rules. Liability is one of the biggest question marks surrounding self-driving cars, as regulators, manufacturers, and insurance companies have yet to figure out who is at fault when an autonomous car crashes. The companies building and operating self-driving cars will likely put pressure on regulators to limit their liability as much as possible, in order to prevent a flurry of lawsuits if autonomous cars really do hit the road in large numbers...and start malfunctioning.