Nevada Law Clears the Way for Practical Self-Driving Cars
As a social work student, nearly a decade ago, I worked for a year with veterans whose eyes were bad enough that they were no longer able to get a driver's license, but not so bad that they were legally blind. Here's a secret that will get you alert on the highway in a jiffy – despite being legally forbidden from driving, most of those folks were still on the road.
Many of us, used to driving when and where we please in our personal vehicles, can't imagine doing without them, especially those who live in suburban and rural areas where public transit isn't available. Imagine for a moment that you lose your license, or your ability to drive, through loss of vision or seizure disorder or some other reason, and suddenly you are completely reliant on public transportation or the courtesy of friends and family.
Now imagine that you (or those veterans with poor vision) have a self driving vehicle – one you can program to take you to your destination, climb aboard, and safely be transported from door to door without having to worry about your eyesight, your sobriety, or your health. Those cars already exist. Google has been testing them for over a year. How would the world need to change to get them on the street?
First, we'd need to figure out where they fit in our vehicle regulations. How are they insured? Who is responsible if they get in an accident? How do we ensure they are compatible with the available roadways? The state of Nevada has taken the first step toward having fully self-driving cars a possibility, by passing a bill that will allow the state DMV to start developing regulations to account for the special challenges of the law.
This is a big deal. It's not a sexy big deal, like the actual development of the car, but it's a critical big deal, because without a framework for integrating self-driving cars into our existing highways and traffic patterns and insurance structures and laws, they're worthless except as a curiosity.
With the framework in place, laws and mechanisms to write laws and insurance regulations and all the other stuff – with all that Nevada has opened the way for people who might not be able to drive – or shouldn't be driving – to maintain the sort of autonomy and freedom of movement they have been accustomed to. Great job, Nevada!