Nevada Passes Law Permitting Autonomous Cars

Nevada passed legislation today that would allow autonomous cars to operate on its highways.

Specifically, the law authorizes Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles to come up with rules that would allow for the free operation of autonomous vehicles on state highways. The department will have until March 2012 to implement the new rules. An operator of an autonomous vehicle would still need a current state driver’s license.

The law defines an autonomous vehicle as a car that uses artificial intelligence, sensors and GPS to coordinate itself without active intervention by a human operator. The law also acknowledges that the driver does not need to be actively attentive if the car is driving itself. Without the law, inattentive driving would likely land you with some sort of reckless driving citation under the guise of previous laws.

Another bill in the state Legislature would permit texting and driving for those who let the car drive itself.

Google has been quietly lobbying the state to set up driverless legislation, according to the New York TimesGoogle is one of the companies at the forefront of autonomous-car technology, along with Volkswagen. Before such legislation was passed, there was some concern about safety and (probably more important to automakers) who would be liable if a driverless car were in an accident.  Just earlier this month, the top auto regulator in the Obama administration expressed skepticism about the current viability of driverless technology, according to The Detroit News.

Google says its aim is to make cars safer. More than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents, according to the World Health Organization. Google believes this number can be halved with its technology in future vehicles. The technology could also drastically reduce traffic jams, reduce wasted fuel consumption and reinvent the relationship between the driver and car.

Nevada policymakers are interested in deploying automatic delivery vehicles or even automated taxis on the Las Vegas strip, among other ideas, which helped move the legislation forward, the New York Times reported.

Nevada Is the First State to Pass Driverless Car Legislation, Paving the Way for Autonomous Autos (Popular Science, via Forbes)