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Google’s Autonomous Cars: What Nevada Learned

Now that Nevada has officially licensed the first self-driving vehicle for testing on state highways, the state knows what regulations it takes to get the vehicles on the road.

Nearly three months after Nevada approved rules  for driving autonomous vehicles on state highways, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles announced Monday, May 7, the issuance of the first autonomous vehicle testing license was granted to search giant Google. The state has learned lessons in the process.

Nevada DMV Director Bruce Breslow told Government Technology on Tuesday, May 8, that Google had to jump through several hoops before getting the OK to test its vehicles in the state. Google had to submit all required documentation, information on a safety program, how the company is training the drivers, as well as evidence that Google had performed more than 10,000 miles of previous testing of autonomous vehicles.

An Autonomous Review Committee also had input into the final requirements. At least two company employees will reportedly be required to sit in the test vehicles when they are in motion. PCWorld reported that companies testing vehicles in Nevada are required to buy a $1 million surety bond for putting up to five vehicles on the road.

Breslow said developing regulations for the testing under a short time frame had its challenges since all stakeholders involved were contributing to the decision-making process.

“I felt like we were going to end up with the Manhattan telephone book,” Breslow said. “And through going through each thing and understanding it better, the biggest challenge was trying to create regulations to protect the public while still allowing this emerging technology a place to evolve.”

Because driverless vehicles still are a relatively new concept, Breslow said Nevada needs to provide a “safe place” where the cars can be tested without too many roadblocks. In other words, the state wants to avoid situations that prevent the car manufacturing industry from working to improve the technology so that it someday can be rolled out publicly.

For other states looking into adopting similar regulations for autonomous vehicles, Breslow recommends communicating within a state’s decision-making group. He also suggests contacting Nevada directly to discuss why the regulations the state chose are the best options for licensing vehicles.

“Eventually when [driverless vehicles] are prevalent in our country, there will be federal requirements and federal guidelines that may require us to eliminate certain things,” Breslow said about Nevada’s new regulations. “But until there are [federal regulations], it’s important that states communicate with one another so they can understand the pitfalls that we have gone through for several months in order to get to a solution.”

Simply cutting and pasting from another state’s regulations won’t sufficiently solve the problem, Breslow explained.

Nevada went from law to test license in less than a year.

In July 2011, Nevada passed a law requiring the DMV to adopt rules for testing. The department was given a six-month deadline to have regulations done. The rules were finished in February and Google was granted its first license. Google has already been testing its autonomous vehicles on California roads without official oversight since an official licensing process there does not yet exist. Google’s autonomous cars have driven more than 100,000 miles on California’s public roads.

Vehicles that are licensed for testing in Nevada will have a red license plate sporting an infinity symbol that explicitly labels it as an autonomous vehicle.

Google reportedly will be testing six autonomous Toyota Priuses, an Audi TT and a Lexus RX 450h in Nevada.

Several unnamed companies besides Google are testing self-driving cars on Nevada’s public roads, according to PCWorld.

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