California's Department of Motor Vehicles has issued a permit to Waymo that authorizes the company to test driverless vehicles on public roads, including freeways, highways, and streets within the cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Sunnyvale, in Santa Clara County. While Waymo has held a permit to test autonomous vehicles with a driver since 2014, the new permit allows the company to test a fleet of about three dozen test vehicles without drivers behind the wheel.

“California has been working toward this milestone for several years, and we will continue to keep the public’s safety in mind as this technology evolves,” said DMV Director Jean Shiomoto.

Under state law established in 2012, the DMV is required to adopt regulations covering both the testing and public use of autonomous vehicles on California roadways. Regulations to allow testing with a safety driver behind the wheel took effect on September 16, 2014. Regulations to allow testing without a driver and deployment of autonomous vehicles were subsequently adopted and took effect on April 2 of this year.

Although Waymo is the first company to receive a driverless permit in California, 60 manufacturers are currently permitted to test autonomous vehicles in California with a safety driver.

To receive a driverless testing permit, manufacturers must certify they meet a number of safety, insurance, and vehicle registration requirements, including:

  • Providing evidence of insurance or a bond equal to $5 million.
  • Verifying vehicles are capable of operating without a driver and meet federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and is a SAE Level 4 or 5 vehicle.
  • Confirming vehicles have been tested under controlled conditions that simulate the planned area of operation.
  • Notifying local governments of planned testing in the area.
  • Developing a Law Enforcement Interaction Plan that provides information to law enforcement and other first responders on how to interact with test vehicles.
  • Continuously monitoring the status of test vehicles and providing two-way communication with any passengers.
  • Training remote operators on the technology being tested.

Driverless testing permit holders must also report to the DMV any collisions involving a driverless test vehicle within 10 days and submit an annual report of disengagements. (Additional information is available on the DMV’s autonomous vehicle webpage.)

Waymo’s permit includes day and night testing on city streets, rural roads, and highways with posted speed limits of up to 65 mph. Testing in fog and light rain is included in the permit. Waymo will gradually begin driverless testing on city streets in a limited territory and, over time, expand the area that it drives in as the company gains confidence and experience to expand. Before expanding the territory for driverless testing, Waymo says it will notify the new communities where this expansion will occur and submit a request to the DMV.

The first driverless rides will be for members of the Waymo team. Eventually, members of the public will be able to experience the technology, as with the early rider program in Arizona.