Self-driving trucking company, Otto, broke Nevada law, but there aren't any penalties

November 30, 2016

Self-driving trucking company Otto gambled big in Nevada last spring. According to Auto News, the payoff on that bet has been huge, but it's put Otto in hot water with regulators.

Back in October, Otto carried out a 120-mile beer delivery in Colorado. Ordinarily, that would've been no big deal, but in this case, Otto used a self-driving big rig, and as you can see in the footage, there was no human in the driver's seat for much of the journey from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.

In prepping for that journey, Otto made a test run in Nevada, which is shown in the clip above. (The run was made in May, before Uber bought the company.) While the drive was a success, it put Otto at odds with Nevada regulators because the company wasn't licensed to conduct autonomous vehicle tests on public roads--and even if it had been, it would've still needed two people up front, ready to take control of the vehicle in case something went wrong.

The weird thing is, Nevada knew about the May drive two weeks before it happened. Even though the state received no paperwork from the company, it did nothing to stop the test. 

Even weirder? Now that the test has been carried out, there's nothing that Nevada can do. Although the state agreed to license self-driving vehicles in 2011 and issued the first such license in 2012, it never established penalties for automakers who don't comply with the law.

In other words, for the time being, it appears that self-driving car manufacturers can conduct all the tests they want in Nevada without risking any penalties.

That will soon change, though. The state's DMV plans to submit new regulations next year--regulations that include fines for violators. 

Otto took a massive bet in carrying out its driverless big-rig test in Nevada, but the bet paid off. The stunt drew worldwide attention and led to Uber's acquisition of Otto, which was estimated to be worth $680 million.

If you have the time, Backchannel has a great story about Otto's bravado (or hubris, depending on how you look at it). Fascinating stuff.

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