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Bill would pave way for driverless car fleets in Nevada

Nevada is one step closer to seeing autonomous vehicles on its roads.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has a bill drafted for the 2017 legislative session that will pave the way for driverless taxicabs, driverless drone cabs and driverless ride-sharing vehicles.

Or, as Steve Hill, director of the economic development office, put it: driverless anything.

“We want to stay on the cutting edge of the autonomous industry,” Hill said.

The bill, AB69, would update existing laws that allow for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles for commercial and personal uses across the state. It would also allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations, while also permitting driverless vehicles to be used by taxicab companies and ride-sharing services that are licensed by state regulators.

“Our definitions haven’t kept up with the definitions the industry is using,” Hill said, adding that the vehicles must be certified, insured and proven safe. “We need to refresh that law.”

For example, state law currently refers to the operator of a vehicle as a “driver,” but that definition doesn’t work for piloting an autonomous vehicle.

The bill would expand that interpretation, allowing a driver to be characterized as a human or a computer.

Staying on the cutting edge, Hill said, means not limiting potential business opportunities for the state.

Over the short term, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles and other regulating agencies would be charged with adopting rules. A DMV spokesman declined to comment.

In the long term, the bill will have lasting impacts on Nevada’s road infrastructure. Over time, wireless sensors will be embedded in streets and highways that would allow traffic signals and vehicles to “talk” to one another.

As for reaction, backlash is almost a sure thing from taxi drivers, Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison said during a Governor’s Office of Economic Development board meeting held earlier this month.

But taxicab operators have reason to keep an eye on this emerging technology as a way to benefit their industry, said Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. While there may be reason for concern, Quigley said that drivers-for-hire shouldn’t be scared of losing their jobs just yet. It will probably take about 20 to 30 years before fleets of autonomous vehicles take over Nevada’s roads, she said.

“This change isn’t going to happen overnight,” Quigley said. “This is going to be a very slow and methodical adoption.”

Stan Olsen, chairman of the Nevada Taxicab Authority, which regulates Southern Nevada’s taxi industry, could not be reached for comment.

Representatives with the Livery Operators Association, which represents some of the local taxi companies, could not be reached for comment, either.

An Uber spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, but a spokeswoman for Lyft said that company executives are reviewing the bill.

Last year, Lyft announced a partnership with General Motors to launch an on-demand network of autonomous vehicles, with the anticipation that driverless fleets will account of a majority of the ride-sharing company’s business within five years.

Hill said he is expecting the bill’s language to change as the affected companies and employees provide input during the legislative session, set to begin on Feb. 6.

“We’re going into this process with an open mind,” Hill said. “We want to get input from people, and that’s why we got this bill out relatively early.”

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter. Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

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