An earlier Holland & Knight Transportation Blog discussed the progress of new autonomous vehicle (AV) regulations in California and the expected support of the Biden Administration. (See "New California Regulations Pave Way for AV Progress Under Supportive Biden," Jan. 7, 2021.) As a refresher, in 2012, California enacted AV legislation (SB 1298) that authorized the operation of AVs in the state as long as they receive approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). SB 1298 also required the DMV to develop regulations for the operations of AVs on public roads.
In 2014, as a result of SB 1298, the DMV introduced AV regulations and started an AV Tester Program to allow manufacturers to test AV technology with a human driver behind the wheel (drivered AVs). Four years later, in 2018, the DMV opened a Driverless Tester Program that allows manufacturers to test AVs without a driver in the vehicle (driverless AVs).
Then in November 2020, after several years of developing regulations aimed at AV passenger service, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates passenger carriers including shuttle services, limousines and ride-hailing companies, announced that it was launching two new AV programs. In the decision, the CPUC approved drivered and driverless AV "deployment," allowing companies to accept compensation on fare-based AV trips. In order to participate in the two programs, companies must have a DMV AV Deployment permit and either a Charter-Party Carrier Class P permit or a Class A charter party certificate in the Drivered AV Passenger Service Pilot Program issued by the CPUC. Companies must also submit data and quarterly reports to the CPUC along with a Passenger Safety Plan.
In an important development, the DMV issued California's first AV deployment permit to Nuro Inc. This deployment permit authorizes Nuro to deploy AVs on public streets, and although it is currently limited to two counties in the Bay Area, this permit will allow Nuro's vehicles to operate commercially on California roads. This is another positive step forward in the challenge to bring AVs to California and the United States.
As to the federal government, the Biden Administration recently announced a $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan with a large amount earmarked to support electric vehicles, including electric vehicle infrastructure. While this plan does not address AVs, infrastructure is critical to the future of AV. Importantly, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg has experience with AV and a track record of supporting AV technology during his time as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. More recently, during a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing with Secretary Buttigieg to understand the Biden Administration's priorities on infrastructure, the DOT Secretary called on Congress to adjust statutory authorities in a way that enables DOT to better keep pace with changes in the AV landscape.