Google has been licensed to use its self-driving cars on public roads in Nevada, the first time that’s happened in the United States. However they aren’t yet legal for use by the general public.
The license follows a change in the law in Nevada earlier this year (following Google lobbying), with Google the first company to receive the special license for what have been legally classed as “autonomous vehicles.” Other companies have said they are working on such vehicles for use in Nevada.
The cars will have to display a special red license plate featuring the infinity symbol. If and when the cars are approved for public use, the same symbol will be used on a special green plate.
The licensing fee is a mere $100 plus $13 per vehicle. However, the company must pay a bond of $1 million for every five vehicles it puts on the road.
To qualify for the testing license, Google had to provide evidence that it had carried out testing over a combined distance of 10,000 miles. It also had to explain how its vehicles work, describe the safety mechanism, and detail how it will recruit and train the drivers used in testing.
Google also had to demonstrate the vehicles in action on both freeways and urban streets, including the Las Vegas Strip.
The license covers a modified Toyota Prius that uses cameras, radar and sensors. It’s also hooked up to Google map and live traffic data to take care of navigation and will always keep within local speed limits.
Nevada also changed its laws such that the occupants of an autonomous vehicle is exempt from bans on text messaging. However, there must be a designated “driver” in the car who has a valid license and is subject to drink driving restrictions.
The cars still have the usual manual controls and a human can take over at any time. The testing license means that not only must there be a human in the driver seat, but there must be at least one other person in the vehicle. It’s also likely that once the vehicles are approved for public use, the driver will need a special license endorsement.