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D.C. Proposes Rules That Would Allow Self-Driving Cars

Google brought one of its self-driving Toyota Prius's to D.C. in 2012.
WAMU/Martin Austermuhle
Google brought one of its self-driving Toyota Prius's to D.C. in 2012.

Self-driving cars may be years away for most motorists, but D.C. is jumping ahead of the curve and preparing for the brave new world of cars that drive themselves.

On Friday, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles published a set of proposed rules that would govern the use of so-called autonomous vehicles — cars that have the ability to drive themselves. If the rules are adopted, D.C. would join a small number of states — including California, Florida Michigan, and Nevada — that allow the cars to be used.

According to the proposed rules, operating a driverless car would require a special endorsement from the DMV. Also, the vehicle would have to be registered and have received a certificate of compliance. To get that certificate, the manufacturer would have to prove that the vehicle had the means for the driver to override the self-driving function.

The rules also warn that the driver or registrant of the vehicle would be responsible for any traffic violations.

Google has taken the lead on developing a self-driving car, outfitting Toyota Prius's with sensors and GPS technology that allows it to navigate through traffic by itself. While commercialization may be years off, the company leaders have said the car could decrease the number of accidents, help reduce traffic and offer transportation to individuals with disabilities.

In mid-2012, Google brought one of its self-driving Toyota Prius's to D.C., showing it off to members of Congress, advocacy organizations and two D.C. Council members who were offered a ride in the next-generation vehicle. In order to operate in the city, the D.C. DMV gave Google a one-day permit.

In 2013, the D.C. Council passed a bill requiring the DMV to draw up rules that would allow for driverless vehicles to be used in the city. Comments on the proposed rules are being accepted for 30 days, after which the rules will be amended and published in final version.

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