Driverless cars now legal in the US

Driverless cars are now legal in the US state of Nevada.

Google's driverless car (Image by Flickr user jurvetson (Steve Jurvetson))

Google were awarded a permit for their self-driving Toyota Prius earlier this week and have submitted applications for a further two permits. The autonomous Prius will now be legally allowed to drive itself on all Nevada roads, including the world-famous Las Vegas strip.

The vehicle still requires someone to sit in the driver’s seat. However, it is capable of steering, accelerating, braking and navigating without human intervention. The driverless technology used was developed by Google vice-president Sebastian Thrun and relies on a combination of GPS, laser radar, artificial intelligence and a vast database to navigate and react appropriately to obstacles.

Bruce Breslow of the Nevada DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) described self-driving cars as “the cars of the future”. He went on to explain one of the many benefits of autonomous cars, saying: “They’re designed to avoid distracted driving.

“When you’re on the strip and there’s a huge truck with three scantily clad women on the side, the car only sees a box.”

At this early testing stage, autonomous cars in Nevada must display special symbol on their license plates to indicate that the driver may not be human. Two people must also remain in the car, one to sit in the driver’s seat and one to monitor the vehicle’s software. In an emergency, the person sitting in the driver’s seat can easily reclaim control of the car by tapping the brake or touching the steering wheel.

Google’s driverless vehicles have already clocked up over 200,000 hours of testing and the state of California is considering following Nevada’s example and issuing permits for driverless cars in the near future.

Plans to bring the futuristic vehicles to the UK are yet to emerge.

Video of Google’s driverless cars