Nevada Approves Regulations For Self-driving Cars

Published February 16, 2012 10:00PM (EST)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada is envisioning a day when taxicabs might shuttle fares without a driver, or people with medical conditions that make them ineligible for a license could get around with a virtual chauffeur.

The concept took a big step when Nevada became the first state to approve regulations that spell out requirements for companies to test driverless cars on state roads.

"Then they have to take us out and prove that they can do it," Bruce Breslow, director of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, said of the autonomous vehicles. "They're not ready to go to market yet."

But Nevada intends to be ready when they are, and officials hope to stay ahead of other states such as Florida and Hawaii that are considering similar testing regulations, Breslow said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval took a test ride in a self-driving Toyota Prius in July. The car being developed by Google Inc. uses radar, sensors and computers that allow the vehicle to drive itself, though human drivers can override the autopilot function.

Companies that want to conduct testing in Nevada will need a bond of $1 million to $3 million, depending on the number of cars they plan to test. Firms also must lay out their specific intentions, such as testing a vehicle on urban roadways, or its ability to operate in the fog, rain or snow, and provide testing data to the state.

The cars must have two people in them at all times, with one able to take control. The new regulations approved last week also require companies to detail license requirements for people to operate them when they become available.

Cars must be equipped with separate data collectors — similar to the "black box" on an aircraft — that will "capture and store the autonomous technology sensor data for at least 30 seconds before a collision."

The regulations go beyond testing procedures, anticipating the day when driverless cars become a reality on highways.

If a vehicle is certified as capable of being driven in autonomous mode without a driver, a person can operate the vehicle "without being physically present," one provision says.

Whether there's a human driver or not, the regulations hold the operator responsible regardless of whether the person is physically present in the autonomous vehicle.

The only exception to traffic laws is texting or talking on a hand-held cellphone. A law passed by legislators last year to ban texting while driving included a specific exemption for operators of self-driving cars on autopilot.

But the vehicles won't be a substitute for a designated driver after a night on the town, Breslow said.

"There is no exemption for drinking and driving," he said.

By Salon Staff

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