Robot cars get the green light in Nevada

Nevada residents may see robot cars on their streets in a couple of days. On March 1, self-driving — aka “autonomous” — cars will be able to drive on the state’s roads.

The state's Legislative Commission approved the new regulations Feb. 15, Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles said in a release.

"Nevada is the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles," DMV Director Bruce Breslow said in the release.

For now, the cars will be allowed on the road for testing purposes. The regulations spell out the requirements companies need to test their vehicles in Nevada as well as requirements for residents to legally operate them in the future. The state is working with companies to develop licensing procedures for companies that want to test their driverless vehicles in Nevada, Breslow added.

The state’s DMV partnered with Google, automobile manufacturers, testing professionals, insurance companies, universities and law enforcement to create the regulations and try to ensure road safety.

Google received a patent for its driverless car system late last year. The company has been testing it with the Toyota Prius, but the system can be installed on any vehicle, Mashable reported.

Last July, the state enacted a law requiring the DMV to adopt regulations for authorizing autonomous vehicles on its highways. The law came after Google hired a lobbyist to advance the legislation, GCN reported.

“Self-driving cars have the potential to significantly increase driving safety,” a Google spokesperson told Mashable. Tom Jacobs, chief public information officer at the Nevada DMV, described the driverless system as “cruise control on steroids,” Mashable reported.

Google also has been testing the cars in California.

Currently, the cars require two operators in the car, even though they drive themselves. The vehicles will have a red license plate to distinguish them from standard cars. When the technology has been approved for public use and the cars can be safely operated with a single driver, the vehicles will get green license plates.

However, policy-makers and regulators are concerned that the technology is advancing too quickly for current law, some of which goes back to the era of horse-drawn carriages, the New York Times reported last year. New laws are required to address safety and liability issues that could crop up.

Others are concerned that Nevada’s autonomous car law could stifle innovation. “Under some interpretations of the bill, cars with computers that automatically engage brakes may constitute a robotic car and thus need to go through further red tape before the general public can drive them,” Aaron Saenz writes at Singularity Hub.

Several other states have pending bills regarding autonomous vehicles, including Hawaii, Oklahoma and Florida.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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