California axes self-driving car rule limiting liability for crashes

Sub-par maintenance won't let automakers off the hook.

Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage

California has been happy to tweak the rules to get more self-driving cars on the road, but it still has its limits. The state's DMV has eliminated a planned rule (suggested by GM) that would have let companies avoid liability for an autonomous vehicle crash if the machine hadn't been maintained to manufacturer specs. In other words, they could have been let off the hook if your car's sensors were muddy, even if an accident was really due to bad code.

The DMV ditched the idea after reading comments objecting to the potential rule. The comment period ends December 15th, and the completed regulations should take effect sometime in early 2018.

California's change of heart doesn't amount to a sudden crackdown on self-driving cars, but it does reflect an evolving approach where it's not quite so willing to give brands everything they want. This might also help settle the ongoing questions about liability in driverless car crashes. If owners are less likely to be blamed for accidents, automakers may be more cautious with development in order to avoid paying for costly mistakes.