- California has granted its first permit to test fully self-driving cars to Waymo, the offshoot of Google parent company Alphabet. It will become the second state — after Arizona — where Waymo will operate cars without a test driver.
- According to the company, Waymo will only test in a small part of the Bay Area, including parts of Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto. The permit allows the cars to run on city streets, rural roads and highways with speed limits up to 65 miles per hour, and they can operate day or night.
- The first passengers will be Waymo employees, although the company says it will eventually open the vehicles to members of the public.
Waymo has been running cars without a driver in Arizona, but approval in its home state is a significant step since California has stricter regulations. Under rules that went into effect this spring by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Waymo had to meet a number of strict criteria to get approval. Those included: meeting federal standards for car design, having a plan to interact with emergency responders and having insurance or a bond of at least $5 million.
Companies also have to self-certify that their vehicles are safe and able to run without a driver, although the state has the authority to step in and revoke the permit if safety becomes an issue. In a Medium post, Waymo says that with more than 10 million miles of testing across 25 cities, the cars are safe, but added that if a vehicle encounters a situation it is unprepared for, it "comes to a safe stop until it does understand how to proceed."
California is a leading state for testing autonomous vehicles (AVs), with more than 60 companies permitted for tests that also use a safety driver. It’s also seen as a potential leader on regulations, especially as the federal government opens the door for more testing by proposing to lift some safety requirements.
Waymo is now testing in both California and Arizona, with the goal of showing the viability of its vehicles and eventually commercializing a taxi service that can transport members of the public. However, The Information reported that Waymo vehicles were struggling in Arizona tests, including having trouble turning, merging and stopping short, which could delay launch of the taxis. The California tests will offer another opportunity for Waymo to prove its viability in another regulatory climate.