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Self-Driving Vehicles and Robotaxis Can’t Pass License Tests - The Massachusetts Example

We examine the difficulties a self-driving vehicle will have in passing a standard driving test. The trip-ups may surprise you.

Self-driving vehicles and robotaxis are coming. Tesla has been working on the technology for quite some time. Many other companies, such as Cruise and Waymo, have been operating self-driving vehicles for many years. This week, Hyundai issued a press release saying that a self-driving IONIQ 5 Robotaxi passed what Hyundai called a “Simulated Driver's License Test.” The test was done in Nevada, and the folks at Hyundai issued a faux driver’s license. Cute.

Having helped three individuals take and pass a driver’s license exam, I decided to apply the Massachusetts standards to a robotaxi to see if it could pass. My conclusion is that there is no possibility that a self-driving car or robotaxi can ever pass a Massachusetts driver’s license road test. And not because the vehicle can’t navigate streets safely. 

Barriers To A Self-Driving Car Taking A Road Test
The first barrier to successfully obtaining a license in Massachusetts a self-driving vehicle would struggle with would be the learner’s permit exam. You see, before you are allowed to try your luck on an actual road test, an applicant must pass the learner’s permit test at a Registry of Motor Vehicles’ location. I just don't see how a vehicle would read the questions in the RMV’s test room and input the answers. 

The Residency Requirement
The second barrier would be the residency requirement. Massachusetts does not require you to be in America legally. You can come in any way you wish. However, once here, the applicant must be a resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Can vehicles be counted as residents in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? If so, they can vote and also attend school, which would be fun to watch. If not, they cannot apply for a road test exam. 

Birth Certificate Requirement
The first step in applying for a road test is to provide documentation of the applicant's birth. A certificate is required. This document must be original and certified by the state in which the resident was born. A passport is an option if the person applying was not born in the U.S. Without one of these two documents, an applicant cannot submit the request form to schedule a road test. 

Social Security Status Requirement
Next, the applicant must provide proof of social security status. Without doing so, the applicant can not apply for a road test. 

Age Of Applicant
All license applicants in Massachusetts must be at least 16.5 years old. Those under 18 must provide proof of having attended and passed the RMV’s officially sponsored Driver’s Eduction Class. Otherwise, the applicant must be 18 years of age or older. That means any vehicle applying would have to be a 2006 or older vehicle. 

Diving Tests Eyesight Requirements and Exam
Here in Massachusetts, every applicant must have eyes and pass an eye exam. The parts of the test include the following:
1) Have at least 20/40 distant visual acuity in either eye, with or without corrective lenses
2) Have not less than 120 degrees combined horizontal peripheral field of vision 
3) Are able to distinguish the colors red, green, and amber 
4) Do not have unresolvable diplopia

Part of the eyesight requirements is an an-RMV test, in which the applicant looks into a special test apparatus. It is hard to understand how the robotaxi could do this. Without passing this test, the applicant cannot schedule a road test. 


Image of hand signals courtesy of Massachusetts License Test GuideRoad Test Step One - Hand Signals
About a year ago, I sponsored a road test applicant. Unfortunately, she thought the road test would be like driving a car on the road, which is a ridiculous notion. A road test has very little to do with normal driving. Step one, when taking the road test, is done before the applicant enters the RMV test vehicle. The applicant is asked by the RMV official to demonstrate the three hand signals. These are right turn, left turn, and slow/stop. They are performed using the applicant’s left arm and hand. Without passing this first step, the test does not proceed. Indeed, the individual I sponsored failed her first attempt and never even got into the test car. How can a robotaxi demonstrate hand signals? The purpose of the hand signal test is related to signal and brake light failures, so don't expect working signals to be a substitute. 

Road Test - Mandatory K Turn and Backing Up Requirements
During a Massachusetts driver’s license road test, there are three parts that require the applicant to look over both shoulders to check for oncoming traffic. These are the K-turn and backing-up tests. The use of mirrors and cameras is strictly prohibited. Using a mirror or a camera instead of looking over one’s shoulder results in a fail. During the parallel parking test, mirrors are permitted, but the applicant must also look over his/her left shoulder to check for traffic. Forgetting to do so is a fail. How can a robotaxi look without using a camera?

Road Test - Both Hands On the Wheel
One way to fail a Massachusetts license road test is to fail to hold the steering wheel in a manner in which the RMV officer deems appropriate. If the applicant does not hold the wheel at all times, often with both hands, the applicant will be failed. How can a robo taxi demonstrate holding the steering wheel properly if there is no wheel?

Final Conclusion - Robotaxis and Self-Driving Cars Cannot Pass A State Driving Test - But Will Be Licensed Anyway
For dozens of reasons, robotaxis and self-driving cars cannot pass a Massachusetts license test. However, the good news for robotaxis and self-driving car companies is that this is Massachusetts. As soon as the government sees that a special interest group can donate to election campaigns, laws are changed lickety-split. Fear not. The rules mere citizens have to follow won’t apply when the time comes for robotaxi licensing. 

Image of hand signals courtesy of Massachusetts License Manual. Image of robotaxi license courtesy of Hyundai. 

John Goreham is an experienced New England Motor Press Association member and expert vehicle tester. John completed an engineering program with a focus on electric vehicles, followed by two decades of work in high-tech, biopharma, and the automotive supply chain before becoming a news contributor. In addition to his eleven years of work at Torque News, John has published thousands of articles and reviews at American news outlets. He is known for offering unfiltered opinions on vehicle topics. You can connect with John on Linkedin and follow his work at our X channel. Please note that stories carrying John's by-line are never AI-generated, but he does employ Grammarly grammar and punctuation software when proofreading.