The California DMV is in charge of overseeing autonomous car testing in the state. Part of that includes ensuring the people operating the fleet of robo-cars are properly trained, but because the DMV is incapable of getting its shit together, that means some companies only require a couple hours of training before testers get behind the wheel.
An investigation by IEEE Spectrum discovered that of the seven automakers testing their self-driving tech in California, the training time for drivers is as little as two hours and as much as five weeks.
That massive variation in training is because the regulations haven't outlined specific standards for testing, which is why Audi can plop a few journalists in a self-driving A7 after some rudimentary training and make a run to Vegas.
Not surprisingly, Google – which has the most advanced systems currently in operation – has the most extensive training regime, consisting of a five-week program that includes both driving and software operation covering urban and freeway driving. According to IEEE:
Students are given video tutorials and instruction from an experienced driver before gradually being allowed to observe and then perform supervised drives. There are reflex tests with fake system failures on simulated cars and hours-long written and practical examinations to pass. Even once they're certified, Google safety drivers are subject to random checks and must refresh their defensive driving skills every two years.
Nissan does more of the same, but manages to cram it into a single day, as does auto supplier Delphi, while Bosch, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla haven't disclosed their exact programs, but IEEE pegs them around a half-day to a day.
Volkswagen and Audi's training is the shortest, reportedly including a 15- to 30-minute classroom session, some vehicle-specific instructions, and wraps up with a "driver test" that can last as little as 15 minutes – a couple of hours, all in.
The differences between each company's cars and capabilities is the primary reason for the massive differences in instruction time, but for a technology with this much potential for error – and bad press – you'd think the DMV would've put some effort into defining what's required. Actually, no, you wouldn't.
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