Government bureaucracies are often criticized for being too slow to come up with regulations for ever-changing technologies and business practices. But when it comes to self-driving cars, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles is ahead of the curve. The Silver State is the first to announce potential regulations for autonomous vehicles.
This is actually the first step in implementing the Autonomous Car Bill signed by Governor Brian Sandoval (pictured) last June. The bill will make it explicitly legal for self-driving cars to roam Nevada’s public roads (other states like California have no explicit prohibition, but no confirmation of the cars’ legality either).
The bill “requires the Department of Motor Vehicles adopt regulations to adopt regulations authorizing the operation of autonomous vehicles on highways within the State of Nevada.” The first vehicles to take advantage of the new law will be prototypes, but that doesn’t mean their will not be rules.
Like regular cars, self-driving vehicles will need to meet standards of road legality, hence the need for DMV regulations. So far, the Nevada DMV has announced that test cars will wear red license plates, and any future consumer models will wear green ones.
With motorists warned about who (or what) is driving the robo-cars, the next step will be deciding which cars and what equipment will be allowed on the road. “The department is currently developing licensing procedures for companies that want to test their self-driving vehicles,” said DMV director Brian Breslow, “Nevada is proud to be the first state to embrace this emergent technology.”
Nevada officials said they were working with car companies, insurance companies, testing professionals, universities, and law enforcement to draft the regulations. Google, whose small fleet of autonomous cars has already logged many miles in California, is also involved.
The timing of the legislation was particularly fortuitous for Google. About six weeks after the bill was passed, one of Google’s autonomous Toyota Priuses was involved in a fender-bender; Google blamed the human driver. If that accident happened in Nevada, the question of whether the Prius should have been on the road in the first place would not be brought up. Testing self-driving cars in a state that openly embraces the technology will probably help Google’s lawyers sleep better.
During the Cold War, Nevada was known as the home of Area 51, where top-secret aircraft prototypes (and, conspiracy theorists say, alien spacecraft) were tested. This time, the futuristic technology will be out in the open, on public roads. The biggest mystery may be who will show up to the DMV to collect those red license plates.