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California to allow testing of self-driving trucks

Image Courtesy: The Verge

USA: California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has proposed a rule change that would let companies deploy “light-duty” autonomous trucks on public roads. Specifically, it seeks to allow the testing of self-driving vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds with an approved permit from regulators, provided they don’t charge a delivery fee.

Organizations would still have to apply for a deployment (public use) permit to make their autonomous technologies commercially available, the DMV says, and the regulations would exclude the testing or deployment of autonomous cars weighing more than 10,001 pounds. But the tweaked rules appear to be a step toward legalizing the kinds of vehicles currently being piloted by Nuro and Udelv, among others.

The rule would only apply to autonomous vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds. That means only Class 1 and 2 trucks — which include minivans, pickup trucks, utility vans, and step vans — could receive permits for testing under the proposed rule. All vehicles in Class 3 through 8 — which include walk-in delivery trucks, semi-trucks, buses, and heavy-duty construction vehicles — would not be allowed under this permitting system.

California is a hotbed for autonomous vehicle testing, so changes made to the state’s rules governing these tests are followed closely by companies, like General Motors, Alphabet’s Waymo, and Uber that are developing fleets of self-driving cars for public use. There are currently 62 companies permitted and 678 autonomous vehicles that are licensed with the DMV, officials say. Waymo is the only company with a permit to test fully driverless vehicles on public roads.

This proposed rule appears to be a small step toward eventually allowing Class 8, heavy-duty semi-trucks with autonomous equipment to be tested on public roads. Waymo has been testing its self-driving tractor trailers in Atlanta. Other companies, like Daimler and TuSimple, are also working toward a fully driverless truck.

For now, the DMV’s new rule would seem to open the door to those companies that are testing much smaller delivery vehicles, like Nuro, Udelv, and Ford — though those companies are already permitted under the state’s main AV testing program.