SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's roads might soon become even busier, now that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will allow the testing and commercial use of light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles on the state's public roads.
The California Office of Administrative Law said that autonomous delivery vehicles (AVs) weighing less than 10,001 pounds — including those without safety drivers behind the wheel — will be able to operate on public roads with a permit. The proposal for use of commercial light-duty AVs was introduced in April.
According to the California DMV, qualifying light-duty vehicles include autonomous passenger cars, midsize pickups, and cargo vans carrying goods such as pizza or groceries.
The requirements for vehicles testing in California with a driver vs. those conducting driverless testing differ. The requirements for testing with a driver focus on the test driver's training and driving capability, while the requirements for driverless testing focus more on the vehicle meeting Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy standards defined by SAE International, as well as other compliance measures.
The DMV will start approving new applications for operating commercial vehicles in mid-January.
Autonomous delivery companies, such as Mountain View, Calif.-based start-up Nuro Inc., have been testing in other states. Nuro has a pilot program in Texas and had one in Arizona.
Now that California has some rules in place, the next hurdle for autonomous vehicle testing might come from the federal government, which has restarted discussions on federal AV legislation.
"What we're excited about is there is movement in terms of solving the problem we're trying to solve on the regulatory side of these vehicles that don't have people in them," David Estrada, Nuro chief legal and policy officer, told Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.
"And so we think and hope that the legislation will include a directive to NHTSA to advance those, that rule making that would remove the requirements for some of the occupant protection that you don't need for these kinds of vehicles. We think there's traction there."