Self-Driving Cars Banned in British Columbia

British Columbia doesn’t want unsupervised self-driving cars on its public roads.

byJosé Rodríguez Jr|
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One of the biggest provinces in Canada is making the use of autonomous vehicles illegal on public roads. British Columbia has banned self-driving vehicles that exceed an SAE autonomy rating of Level 2, which makes the operation of any vehicle with Levels 3, 4, and 5 illegal in the interest of public safety. The ban is part of an update to B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Act that went into effect on April 5, 2024, after being proposed by legislators in 2023.

The provincial government says this latest update of the "Motor Vehicle Act prohibits a person from driving, or permitting the driving of, a Level 3, 4 or 5 automated vehicle. This means that highly automated self-driving vehicles cannot yet be driven on public roads in B.C., nor can highly automated self-driving features be used..." The ban is in effect for now, but that could change as the tech evolves. The rules also outline possible consequences for drivers, which will range up to a max penalty of $2,000 (CAD) in fines, or just shy of $1,500 at current exchange rates. Violators (a person in charge of a "self-driving" car) could also face up to six months of prison time.

These are the highest forms of punishment, however, and penalties for drivers begin with milder fines of $368 (CAD), or $266, along with three penalty points on their licenses. Points can eventually lead to license suspensions, and of course, they have an adverse effect on auto insurance rates. The more points on your license, the higher the price of insurance becomes.

Cars with autonomous features up to Level 2 remain unaffected by the ban, so Tesla owners who use Autopilot and FSD won't have to worry about their insurance premiums going sky high—or, at least, not going any higher than they already are. Ford and GM vehicle owners with BlueCruise and Super Cruise are also exempt from the ban.

It's worth noting that banning "highly automated" vehicles, as the British Columbian government refers to them, might seem like a dramatic move, but it isn't such a sweeping prohibition as it first seems. There are no Level 3 autonomous vehicles for sale in Canada at the moment, and Levels 3, 4 and 5 continue to elude most automakers. Few cars have achieved these ratings, which do not require human monitoring. These include the Mercedes-Benz EQS and S-Class with Drive Pilot, as well as the Honda Legend with Honda Sensing Elite. But these cars paired with their specific AV tech are available only outside of Canada and are subject to conditional use in their respective markets.

All of which is to say that Level 3 AVs are exceedingly rare around the world, and remain virtually nonexistent in British Columbia. But the decision to ban "self-driving" cars could be a preemptive one, and it may prove beneficial for B.C. residents who mistrust AVs on public roads. A 2023 study conducted by the University of British Columbia's REACT Lab found that the majority of respondents are wary of AVs and agree that regulation is necessary to gradually unleash self-driving cars into the wild. This gradual approach seems to be in contrast to that of the U.S., where autonomous vehicles from Waymo and Cruise have wreaked havoc on public roads from the Pacific Northwest to southern California.

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