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

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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.

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 has 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.

No company has yet obtained a permit to charge fees for deliveries that are conducted with autonomous test vehicles, but Softbank-funded Nuro has applied to do just that, a spokesperson said.

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.

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