Speaking at a Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) conference last week, product manager for autonomous driving Anthony Levandowski said that Google expects to release its self-driving car technology in the next three to five years. According to Bloomberg, however, Levandowski cautioned that "what form it gets released is still to be determined." Even if Google has its technology polished and road-ready in that time frame, it's highly unlikely that they'll be for sale due to a slew of complex legal issues surrounding autonomous vehicles. Currently, only three states — California, Florida, and Nevada — allow Google's self-driving cars on the roadways, but only for testing purposes and if a human driver is present.
"It's a legal morass right now."
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's (NHTSA) associate administrator for vehicle safety, Dan Smith, explained the "massive challenge" involved coming up with a government standard that would cover "so many different scenarios where failure could possibly occur." Another question the NHTSA still needs to address is whether or not the agency should be "looking at the underlying electronics" or merely testing the vehicle's road performance.
Aside from regulating autonomous vehicles, insurance companies will also have to develop a way to determine who's at fault in the event of an accident. Is Google at fault? Is the driver? "It's a legal morass right now, and unfortunately it will take court decisions to work this out," Insurance Information Institute president Robert Hartwig said at the SAE conference. While Google expects the technology to be ready in the next five years, Hartwig thinks it will take 15 to 20 years before you'll be allowed to drive one down a US highway.