California now allows driverless truck and cargo van testing on public roads

Key Points
  • The California Department of Motor Vehicles announced, on Tuesday, that it will now allow driverless light-duty trucks and cargo vans to be tested on the state's public roads.
  • Among other things, companies that want to test driverless delivery vehicles on California's roadways will need a human safety driver on board, or the vehicles will need to be capable of remote operations and remote monitoring.
General Motors Cruise test vehicles
Source: General Motors

The California Department of Motor Vehicles announced on Tuesday that it will now allow a broader variety of driverless vehicles to be tested on the state's public roads, including those in the light-duty category, meaning small to mid-sized trucks and vans.

The mandate for autonomous trucks and vans could prove a boon for so-called "teleoperation" startups like Phantom Auto, or help autonomous vehicle makers who have already planned to use remote monitoring and remote vehicle operation features.

According to the new rules, light-duty driverless vehicles that carry items like pizzas or groceries can be test-driven on California roads, as long as the organizations testing them obtain a permit from the California DMV, and either have a safety driver on board, or meet a list of tech and reporting standards.

Among other requirements, companies testing the vehicles without a human test driver behind the wheel in California will have to build in a link to a remote operator. They must also agree to share data with the state -- submitting an annual "disengagement report" and collision reports to the DMV within 10 days of any incidents involving their cars, for example.

GM Cruise, which has a partnership with the food delivery platform DoorDash, did not answer requests for comment. A Ford spokesperson said, "We are currently testing AV's in California, but have not applied for the light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles permit." An Uber Eats spokesperson said the company has no plans to apply for such a permit.

Currently, 65 companies -- including Aurora, Tesla, General Motors' Cruise, and Apple -- hold permits to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state of California with a safety driver on-board, but not to conduct deliveries with these. Only one company, Alphabet's Waymo (formerly the Google Self-Driving car project) has attained a permit for fully driverless testing on California public roads today.

Correction: Contrary to a spokesperson's initial response, Nuro has not in fact applied for a permit to charge fees for deliveries that are conducted with autonomous test vehicles.

Why we don't have self-driving cars yet
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