Waymo granted first fully driverless vehicle permit in California


California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) today announced that it has issued a permit authorising Waymo to test fully driverless vehicles on public roads in Santa Clara County, California.

"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"

Jean Shiomoto, Director, California DMV

The self-driving vehicle developer will be able 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.

Although Waymo has been able to test autonomous vehicles with a driver in California since 2014, the new permit allows it to test a fleet of autonomous vehicles without drivers behind the wheel.

To date, the state has granted permits to 60 manufacturers to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver behind the wheel.

“When most people go to the DMV, they hope to leave with a permit that allows them to get behind the wheel. For Waymo, the best news is a permit that allows us to get out from behind the wheel,” said the company in a blog post announcing the permit.

“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.

The permit follows new DMV regulations that came into effect in April allowing autonomous vehicle testing without a driver within carefully defined limits.

“Waymo’s permit includes day and night testing on city streets, rural roads and highways with posted speed limits of up to 65 miles per hour,” said the company.

“Our vehicles can safely handle fog and light rain, and testing in those conditions is included in our permit. We will gradually begin driverless testing on city streets in a limited territory and, over time, expand the area that we drive in as we gain confidence and experience to expand.”

The testing area is already familiar for Waymo, whose headquarters are located in Mountain View. The company said that before expanding the territory used for driverless testing, it would notify any new communities affected and would submit a request to the DMV.

Driverless testing permit requirements in California

To receive a driverless testing permit in California, manufacturers must certify that 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, meet federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and operate at SAE Level 4 or 5 autonomy

  • 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

Permit holders must also report any collisions involving a driverless test vehicle to the DMV within 10 days.