Nevada claims to be the first state in the nation to approve rules for testing driverless vehicles on the state roadways. The Legislative Commission of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) approved regulations in February that will pave the way for companies to test “autonomous vehicles” and set the stage for Nevada motorists to operate driverless cars and trucks.

DMV Director Bruce Breslow said Nevada is the first in the U.S. to adopt such legislation, and that an application package for companies that want to test their autonomous vehicles is available.

The announcement was made just months after Nevada passed a law requiring the DMV to adopt regulations that would authorize the use of autonomous vehicles on the state’s highways. The law, passed in July 2011, defines an autonomous vehicle as “a motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator.”

The law also mandates that the DMV establish a driver’s license endorsement requiring the autonomous vehicle’s operator to comply with Nevada’s traffic laws.

Breslow said the state is currently developing licensing procedures for companies that want to test their autonomous vehicle technology, and is requiring certification before an autonomous vehicle can be registered in the state.

“We require an autonomous vehicle that’s sold in the state to have a certificate of compliance certifying that the vehicle meets certain minimum safety requirements and provide a driver’s license endorsement for drivers to operate an autonomous vehicle in the state,” Breslow said.

In the future, residents will be able to apply to operate a self-driving vehicle in Nevada, and those requirements were covered in the new regulations.

Breslow said drivers must prove to the DMV that they understand the capabilities of driverless vehicle technology. The DMV is also requiring applicants to provide proof of 10,000 miles of prior autonomous vehicle operation, as well as show summary statistics and a report of all of the prior autonomous testing he or she would like the DMV to consider when processing an application.

Autonomously tested vehicles will be designated with a red license plate, but once the technology is ready for public use, a green license plate will be displayed on registered autonomous vehicles.

To create the new regulations in Nevada, the DMV partnered with Google, automobile manufacturers, testing professionals, insurance companies, universities and law enforcement agencies with the focus of testing driverless vehicles as a way to increase safety on roads.

“We see autonomous technology as the future of the automobile,” Breslow said. “Certainly within two to five years, there will be autonomous, self-driving cars sold to people in our country. And we look at it as a safety system to avoid crashes, to avoid deaths.”

Companies like Google have tested driverless car technology in the past, but none has officially announced that it will apply to test driverless car technology under Nevada’s new regulations.

According to an October 2010 official Google blog post, the company tested driverless cars around California and at that time, had logged more than 140,000 miles with autonomous vehicles.

“Our automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to ‘see’ other traffic, as well as detailed maps (which we collect using manually driven vehicles) to navigate the road ahead,” according to the Google blog post.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.