The "Johnny Cab" from Total Recall. (Dude in the front is a robot.)
Nevada is officially the first state to make self-driving cars (as made famous by Google) a legal presence on roads.
There are conditions, of course, but the director of the Nevada's Department of Motor Vehicles ushered in the announcement with a hopeful, "Nevada is the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles."
It's no secret that Google has been courting Nevada for this very piece of legislation for a while now. Like Texas and a lot of southwestern states, Nevada has long stretches of road that aren't heavily populated, and that makes it an ideal early testing ground for self-driving vehicles.
Of course, we aren't going to see cars just driving all over the place on their own. Right now, Nevada law allows for self-driving vehicles to be tested on the state's roads, including creating an official driver's license for automated automobiles. Companies that want to do so will have to raise a bond of $1 million to $3 million, and two humans have to be in the vehicle at all times. This last provision is planning for the worst: if the vehicle goes out of control, hopefully one of the two passengers will be able to take the wheel.
There are a few other provisions, too. From PCWorld's Sarah Jacobsson Purewal:
Cars also have to be equipped with data collectors (like an airplane black box), and will have red license plates. If the cars are approved for public the cars will have green license plates (regular Nevada license plates are grayish-blue). If cars are approved, a person can operate the vehicle "without being physically present," according to one provision. But the person operating the vehicle — present or not — will be held responsible for what the car does.
So, sorry, Nevada folks — you're still going to have to drive yourself around. That said, it's definitely a big first step for Google (the company "worked closely," with Nevada legislators, according to Purewal).
With large-scale testing beginning today, we may not be too far off from self-driving cars fully realized on roads some tomorrow soon. If not in crowded cities, then maybe one day, just maybe, you could rent yourself a self-driving car to take you from Las Vegas to, say, Los Angeles, while you shake off all the things you're famously leaving there for good.