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Otto Violated Nevada’s Self-Driving Vehicles Law — But Will Not Face Serious Penalties


A new report suggests that “driverless” truck maker Otto deliberately defied Nevada regulations when they tested one of their vehicles on I-80 back in May.

According to a report from Backchannel, Otto was aware that the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles had a specific set of requirements that needed to be met in order to test autonomous vehicles on the state’s highways.

In order to make the test run, the Nevada DMV needed Otto to provide a special permit application, proof of 10,000 miles of testing, and a $5 million bond. Nevada also requires two qualified human drivers to sit in the driver and passenger seats. Additionally, Nevada requires that autonomous vehicles be outfitted with a special red license plate to make them easy to distinguish.

The Backchannel report claims that Otto was specifically warned about the needed requirements for their planned test drive, but that they were so worried about losing the competitive advantage of being the first to the driverless truck market that they decided to defy Nevada law.

From the Backchannel report:

“When Otto performed its test drive — the one shown in the May video — it did so despite a clear warning from Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that it would be violating the state’s autonomous vehicle regulations. When the DMV realized that Otto had gone ahead anyway, one official called the drive “illegal” and even threatened to shut down the agency’s autonomous vehicle program.”

Though Nevada transportation officials reportedly called the test drive “illegal”, there are no serious penalties on the books for violators of the state’s autonomous driving laws. Nevada’s autonomous vehicles regulations were shaped in part by Otto cofounder Anthony Levandowski while he was employed by Google.

Otto was acquired by Uber for $680 million just a few months after the video of the Nevada test drive was released.

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