A silver lining to driverless test restrictions in the ‘Silver State’

At the moment, carmakers are not allowed to test their autonomous vehicles in Nevada without a driver behind the wheel but the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will not restrict self-driving cars once they are ready for deployment.

“When they deploy it, it’s a different thing,” said Jude Hurin, administrator for the Nevada DMV. “Once you decide to deploy this, then you’ve crossed over from testing to business. That’s a business decision based on that company.”

Hurin also leads Nevada’s autonomous driving programme. When asked about the risk that an automaker could move too quickly and deploy prematurely, he said it wasn’t up to the Nevada DMV to decide when a car is ready. “We don’t want to get in their backyard,” Hurin explained. “Nevada believes it’s up to the industry to decide when they want to deploy it.”

Thus, if an automaker wanted to sell its autonomous vehicles to Nevada licensed dealerships today, there wouldn’t be a problem. Said Hurin: “Under our current regulation, all those dealerships would have to do is buy the certificate that the DMV would create. The certificate would say, ‘Yes, this autonomous vehicle meets the minimum safety requirements for Nevada.’ And they’re very minimum, which is not a very hard thing to do at all.”

Training wheels

Once autonomous technology is ready for everyday use, automakers will still have one challenge ahead: how can they train consumers to use these new and evolving features? “We’re trying to look at ways of making sure that the person that purchases the vehicle, as well as the dealership and the company that sells it, has minimal steps to go through,” said Hurin. “We want to work with OEMs on a couple things.”

The main problems here are product differentiation. If one consumer purchases a driver-assisted vehicle from Ford while another buys it from Lexus, each will inevitably come with different limitations and capabilities. It could be difficult for consumers to understand the differences between the two without proper training.

“I don’t want the dealership or OEMs throwing you at just an owner’s manual and say, ‘Good luck,’” said Hurin. He added that dealerships don’t want to take on the responsibility of educating drivers. “What we’re trying to get across to them is that if the OEMs would partner with the dealerships to provide the training concept, what you’re going to have is a great program to reduce liability down the road.”

Protecting the next owner

Hurin would also like to see training programs in place for secondary drivers, such as the children of those who purchase an autonomous vehicle. Resale presents another issue. “When you sell the vehicle to me as a used vehicle, how am I going to get the training?” Hurin questioned. “Those are the things that make this technology cutting-edge and produces new avenues. The companies can charge for the training.”

Even then there could be risks, particularly when consumers lend their autonomous vehicles to other drivers. How will they instantly know which self-driving features are available and how to use them safely? Hurin suggested that automakers implement a password system to lock autonomous features and prevent them from being used without an access code. This way the car could be shared like any other vehicle. What do automakers think of this idea? Said Hurin: “A lot of them say, ‘Wow, I didn’t think about that.’”
No driverless tests allowed

The Nevada DMV may not have any problem with automakers deploying autonomous vehicles when they are ready but Hurin said he will not allow the vehicles to be tested without a driver present.

“That’s where I draw the line,” he said. “The reason is, when you’re in a testing realm, it is a test. You could remotely test that vehicle but let’s play it safe and have a person behind the wheel so that if anything happens to the remote technology, the person can take care of it. You’re protecting the image of your technology. I’m protecting the citizens as I’m testing on all the roadways in Nevada.”

Hurin said automakers should “keep a safe perspective on this” and realise that a driver does not impede their ability to test their vehicles. “It just provides that backup layer of safety that protects everybody,” Hurin added. “And I think that any state that goes forward with allowing that to happen without someone behind the wheel, that’s something I would caution not to do. You can still test that technology, there’s nothing getting in the way.”

Smarter by the day

Vehicles are Hurin’s primary focus but he said that Nevada is committed to making sure that its state is a “smart state.” “Not just a smart city but a smart state for autonomous vehicles, drones, advanced technology, platooning, taxi and shuttle autonomous technologies, infrastructure – all those areas,” said Hurin. “And we really want to work not just with autonomous vehicles but the whole industry and figure out what industry needs from government.”

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