California may be the 800-pound gorilla in the automotive legislation world, but their neighbor Nevada seems to be taking the initiative when it comes to self-driving cars. They’ve adopted a number of regulations into law, and are pushing the state as a legal testing-ground for companies preparing such vehicles. These changes were telegraphed last summer, when the state legalized driverless cars to begin with. Now they’re hammering out the details.
There’s money involved, of course: a $1m to $3m bond must be purchased if you want to test your robocar in the state, depending on the nature of the project. And the laws will have to change, naturally, once the vehicles go from science project to highway reality. But these early calls seem reasonable.
The new regulations are partly aimed at making testing safe and legitimate, and partly at actually accommodating driverless vehicles on the road. For instance, information from testing must be shared with the state, along with the purpose of the experimentation and information about the cars. This information will be useful to urban planners and the like, who may want to immunize their cities against future robocar problems.
Two people must be in the cars at all times for now, and there must be a sort of “black box” device that records data in case of a crash. Robocars will have red license plates, and later, when certified, green. There will likely have to be some kind of national standard for identifying an autonomous vehicle.
And there are also allowances for the human element: a person will be considered the “operator” of a vehicle whether they are physically present or not. How this will work when the cars are completely autonomous and cause a wreck anyway isn’t clear. But it does also inform an interesting (and probably correct) decision also included in the regulations: for now, you can’t use an autonomous vehicle as a designated driver. Just because you aren’t turning the steering wheel doesn’t mean you’re not “operating” the vehicle. Drinkers be warned.
You will, however, be able to call or text on your mobile while in a robocar. That particular decision was carved out of the earlier law banning texting while driving. So text away or watch a movie, but remember that you’re still in charge of the vehicle.