DOT moves to allow self-driving car tests on NYC streets

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The de Blasio Administration wants to let companies road-test self-driving cars on the streets in spots around the five boroughs, according to recently proposed changes to city rules.

The tests would be preliminary, and only be allowed with a person sitting behind the wheel to take over if anything goes wrong, according to the changes, which were published in the City Record on Monday.

The new rules would require companies that want to test autonomous vehicles on NYC streets to apply for and receive a $5,000-per-year permit from the city Department of Transportation.

There will be a hearing on the proposal on Sept. 1, and if the change to the city charter goes through, New Yorkers will soon see the robocars in various, as yet to be decided, testing zones around the city.

Permit-holders will be required to “self-certify” that the people sitting in the driver’s seat of the self-driving cars are “able and prepared to assume control of the vehicle in the event of a failure of the autonomous vehicle technology,” city officials wrote in the “statement of purpose” accompanying the proposal.

Companies will also have to provide comprehensive data from the road testing, including info on each car used, total miles drivers, locations and times for every test-run and information on crashes and safety-related traffic violations, the proposal said.

The move to permit the new car tech on city streets comes nearly four years after de Blasio scuttled a plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to let General Motors test its “self-driving” Chevrolet Bolt cars throughout five square miles of lower Manhattan.

A City Hall rep pledged strict oversight of firms testing robocar tech on city streets.

“New York City has the right to ensure the safety of its streets. That includes regulating autonomous vehicles that operate here,” said the spokesman, Mitch Schwartz.

“We won’t hesitate to take action against companies who could put pedestrians, cyclists, or other drivers in harm’s way.”

But Jon Orcutt, a longtime transportation advocate and former DOT policy boss, questioned the merit of dispatching untested car technology on local streets as the city faces its highest traffic fatality rates since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office.

“To put experimental vehicles in the most pedestrian-heavy environment in the country is a really odd choice at a time when traffic safety is in the balance,” Orcutt said.

“In Arizona they killed a pedestrian,” said Orcutt, in reference to a 49-year-old woman killed by an autonomous vehicle on a Tempe, Arizona street in 2018.

“If you can’t get it right in Phoenix or the Arizona suburbs, I think Manhattan or any part of this city is going to be a much bigger challenge,” Orcutt said.

“I really don’t understand what the city is on about in doing this.”

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