Cars without drivers head to Las Vegas

A Google driverless car operating on a testing path. The Nevada DMV has issued its first driverless car license there.

This final note today, in which the future comes to the great state of Nevada. The DMV there has issued its first driverless car license. The recipient is a Prius tricked out by Google.

But what kind of license does a car without a driver get, anyway? We called up Bruce Breslow to find out. He's the director of Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

Bruce Breslow: It's a business license, and it won't be a driverless car because it's a testing license, and there must be two operators in the car at all times.

Ryssdal: How do we as regular motorists -- should I drive up to Las Vegas this weekend -- how do I know it's a driverless car other than -- well I won't actually right? Because you'd see two people. So how do I know it's a driverless car?

Breslow: Well, if it's Google's test car, you'll see a spinning turret with laser radar on top.

Ryssdal: Whoa, wait. What?

Breslow: It is a laser radar combination that sees 360, so while you can see out the front of your car, it sees sideways, behind you and everything around you and your environment. It sees better than you do. So that's the first giveaway. The second would be a bright red license plate with an infinity symbol in gold that says 'Autonomous vehicle.'

Ryssdal: Where did the red license plate with infinity come from?

Breslow: My imagination, actually.

Ryssdal: Have you ridden in this thing?

Breslow: I've gone on several test drives. You can see the laptop that shows what the vehicle sees, and that it sees a lot more than you can see. It sees a pedestrian; a pothole; it sees three cars in front where I'm blocked by the car in front of me, but this has the laser radar that skips under that car, picks up the next one, skips under that, picks up the next one. It relaxes you quite a bit.

Ryssdal: Now let's say something goes wrong and a red light is run or a fender bender is had -- who gets the ticket?

Breslow: The owner of the vehicle is responsible for the vehicle.

Ryssdal: All right.

Breslow: But keep in mind before you blame it on the car: There is a hard drive in there that will record 30 seconds prior to the accident. So if you say a deer jumped out in front of the car, they can prove that a deer didn't jump out at the car.

Ryssdal: Is it like when I was learning how to drive and my mom was sitting in the passenger seat, and every time something would get a little hairy, she would pump a fake brake pedal and go, [brake noise] 'Kai!'

Breslow: Initially I thought that might be the case. The car's a lot smoother in its maneuvers. It's great technology.

Bruce Breslow -- he runs the Nevada DMV -- talking about driverless cars that are now legal there.

That bit about my mom is true, by the way.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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