Waymo’s Driverless Car Efforts Limited By Some States


Waymo is ready to broaden its fully self-driving car efforts, but not all U.S. cities have warmed to the technology.

Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car unit said in a tweet Jan. 22 it will test its vehicles on public roads in Atlanta with no human driver inside and wants to expand to other cities. Waymo, which began as a Google project in 2009, gained an edge last November by becoming the first company to test its technology without a safety driver on U.S. roads. 

Waymo’s announcement spotlights how companies are grappling with the patchwork of state laws that govern autonomous vehicles as they look to nationally expand the technology. 

Some areas, like Connecticut and the District of Columbia, ban autonomous vehicles without a human in the driver’s seat. Others, like Michigan and Washington, allow it only if certain conditions are met.

California, home to many self-driving and other car technology companies, such as Lyft Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc., also requires a human behind a steering wheel, a California Department of Motor Vehicles spokesperson told Bloomberg Law. But the state is in the midst of finalizing new rules that would lift this requirement and allow manufacturers to operate driverless cars. The rule could be finalized in early 2018, the spokesperson said. 

A pair of bills in Congress propose to speed up the rollout of autonomous vehicles and would allow driverless operations nationally as long as federal safety requirements are met, Amitai Bin-Nun, vice president of autonomous vehicles and mobility innovation at advocacy group Securing America's Future Energy's (SAFE), told Bloomberg Law.

Passage of those bills “would make it clear that the question of AV safety requirements is a federal question,” Bin-Nun said.

The House passed H.R. 3388 in September, while the Senate’s version, S. 1885, is currently stalled.

Some Democratic lawmakers and consumer advocacy groups have opposed the legislation due to concerns about the technology’s safety and readiness.

A Waymo spokesperson said the bills would fix the patchwork of rules and proposals in various U.S. states.