Self-driving cars are quickly changing the transportation landscape across the United States. In fact, by 2025 there may be 8 million autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles on the road. But what many Nevadans may not know is that Las Vegas was a pioneer in autonomous vehicle testing – the first city in the United States to grant a license for a driverless car. 

Self-driving vehicles have been on Nevada roads since 2012, and though they are an exciting technological development, autonomous driving technology comes with an element of risk. Self-driving cars don’t navigate driving perfectly and just as with human drivers, there is always a possibility of an accident that can cause serious injury. As a passenger in a self-driving car or a pedestrian that may encounter one, it is important to know the laws in Nevada that concern self-driving vehicles and what you need to know if injured in an accident

What is a Self-Driving Vehicle? 

The term “self-driving” might be used to describe a spectrum of vehicles that have ADAS, or advanced driver assistance systems. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has developed a system of categories to describe the way vehicles use self-driving technology. 

Level 0  is a fully manual car with no driver assistance technology. This includes most vehicles on the road at present. 

Level 1 describes most older cars that have only one driver assistance system, such as cruise control. The human driver still monitors accelerating and braking. 

Level 2 means the car has Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and is partly autonomous. The ADAS may control steering and acceleration, but a human operator has to be ready to take control at any time. A well known example of this type of vehicle technology is the Tesla Autopilot. 

Level 3 of automation means the car’s technology can monitor the driving environment through cameras and sensors. Human operators can override most of the operations. 

Level 4 defines a vehicle that can perform all driving tasks under certain circumstances. There is still an option for human operators to take over control. 

Level 5 is a vehicle capable of performing all driving tasks under all circumstances and doesn’t require any human operation. A human passenger does not have to pay attention to the controls or take over operation. This is the accurate definition of an autonomous vehicle

How Did Self-Driving Vehicles Arrive in Nevada? 

In May of 2012, Google was the first company to receive a license from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicles on state roads. Though regulations required a human operator to be in the driver’s seat to override controls in case of a malfunction, plus an additional human passenger, the test vehicles had ADAS for accelerating and braking. Google’s fleet had vehicles from a number of manufacturers, including Toyota Priuses, Audi TT and Lexus RX450h. The passengers included the governor of Nevada at the time, Brian Sandoval, who rode from Carson City to Washoe Valley and back with DMV director Bruce Breslow. 

Other companies followed suit with autonomous vehicle testing in Nevada. In 2017, a partnership with Lyft and the self-driving vehicle technology company Aptiv introduced a driverless ride-share fleet in Las Vegas, servicing popular destinations on the Strip. The pilot program had only 20 vehicles. Lyft users were given the option of accepting a driverless vehicle on the app – though the vehicles still had a human operator behind the wheel to take over if necessary. And in 2022, Uber launched a driverless option for customers in Las Vegas with the technology company Motional, sending a modified Hyundai Ioniq hatchback to riders along with two human safety drivers.  

Clearly, Nevada is the go-to testing ground for companies looking to offer self-driving rides to their customer base. But none of these groundbreaking events took place without the state of Nevada passing laws to make it possible. What exactly are the laws concerning the use of self-driving vehicles in Nevada? 

Nevada Laws For Self-Driving Vehicles

Self Driving Car Accident Law

The landmark bill passed by the Nevada State Legislature, Assembly Bill 511 36-6, made Nevada the first state to establish laws governing the licensing and operation of autonomous vehicles at Levels 3, 4 and 5. Some aspects of the bill provided for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to establish rules about autonomous vehicle safety standards, and restrict vehicle testing to certain geographic areas.

  • Autonomous vehicle owners must make an application to the DMV to have the vehicle registered in Nevada. 
  • Human operators of an autonomous vehicle must have an driver’s license endorsement

Nevada Revised Statute 482A states:

  • Autonomous vehicle technology must have an override option for a human operator, and there must be a human operator in the driver’s seat that can easily take control if needed. 
  • An autonomous vehicle must have proof of an insurance policy worth $5 million. 

SB 140 makes a special provision for cell phone use by human operators of autonomous vehicles: 

  • Safety drivers (humans who sit in the front of an autonomous vehicle to take over control to prevent an accident) are in fact permitted to use cell phones while driving. 

AB 69 establishes liability rules:

Who is Liable for Injuries in a Self-Driving Car Accident?  

If another driver, passenger or pedestrian is injured in a self-driving car accident in Nevada, as seen in the statutes described above, assigning liability may not be as straightforward as an accident involving a conventional vehicle. For example, a human operator has to be in the driver’s seat, but using a cell phone does not mean they can be accused of distracted driving. The vehicle manufacturer may be released from liability if there is an equipment failure leading to an accident. The precedent for assigning fault in a self-driving car accident, according to a study at Columbia University, could be shared fault amongst the human operator, the manufacturer of the vehicle, the company that manufactured the ADAS technology such as sensors and cameras, and even the state where the vehicle is registered. 

In the intricate landscape of Nevada’s legal procedures, understanding specific laws and regulations can be crucial. For instance, being aware of Nevada’s work injury laws can be beneficial in cases where an employee is injured. Similarly, in the age of technology, the use of dashcam footage as evidence has become increasingly relevant in accident cases. Moreover, principles like respondeat superior can significantly impact the outcome of an accident lawsuit. Navigating these legal intricacies requires expertise and a deep understanding of the law.

Consulting an experienced las vegas car accident lawyer with expertise in self-driving car accidents ensures you will get the best legal advice and help with claiming the compensation you deserve. Contact us or call 702-680-1111 today for a free consultation.

As founder of Gina Corena & Associates, she is dedicated to fighting for the rights of the people who suffer life-changing personal injuries in car, truck and motorcycle accidents as well as other types of personal injury. Gina feels fortunate to serve the Nevada community and hold wrongdoers accountable for their harm to her clients.

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