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Nuro's R2 has no occupants, mirrors or windshield. Photo: Courtesy of Nuro

Regulators are starting to rewrite rules for self-driving cars to share the road with traditional vehicles.

The big picture: Automated test vehicles are allowed on public roads in some states — so long as they comply with existing safety standards written for human-driven vehicles.

  • As the technology advances, specially designed AVs without human controls are taking their place, requiring modern rules for the driverless era.

Driving the news: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this week gave Nuro, a Silicon Valley startup, permission to bypass some existing safety standards in order to deploy its automated grocery delivery vehicles with no one aboard.

Why it matters: By granting Nuro the industry's first exemption for an AV, NHTSA determined the company's little delivery vans are as safe as other small, low-speed vehicles and that deploying them is in the public interest because it will help the agency shape future AV policy.

  • NHTSA will keep a tight leash by limiting Nuro to 5,000 vehicles over two years and requiring the company to share real-time safety data.
  • The regulatory milestone could pave the way for the deployment of other dedicated AVs.
  • Cruise, General Motors' self-driving unit, is in discussions with NHTSA about an exemption for its new driverless ride-sharing vehicle, Origin.

Exemptions are a temporary fix that could provide a path for AVs to be deployed until safety regulations are enacted.

  • NHTSA has begun the rule-making process for AVs, but that often takes many years.
  • Other countries are moving faster on AV regulation, according to a report this week from global advisory firm Dentons.

Meanwhile: There's action on other fronts. After three years of stalled progress, self-driving vehicle legislation could be picking up momentum in Congress.

  • A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Tuesday will hear testimony about sections of a draft bill that would establish a federal framework for self-driving vehicles.
  • This time, lawmakers from both parties, in the House and Senate are crafting the legislation together to give the bill a better chance of passing.
  • The bipartisan, bicameral approach is unusual, and Tuesday's hearing is a sign the legislation might be back on track, says Jamie Boone of the Consumer Technology Association.

Yes, but: The bill could run into many of the same sticking points that killed previous efforts, such as legal liability and the split between federal and state authority.

  • One muddy issue, for example: Today the federal government has authority over vehicle safety whereas states oversee traffic laws, driver's licenses and vehicle registration.
  • The big question: What happens when the driver is a robot?

Some industry groups are stepping in to try to fill the regulatory gap with measurable standards all AV companies can follow.

  • A wave of new AV safety standardization efforts are being rolled out this year by groups such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Underwriters Laboratories and SAE International.
  • The risk is conflicting standards that could lead to confusion.

Go deeper: Waymo pilot with UPS hints at future autonomous truck plan

Go deeper

Harry and Meghan accuse British royal family of racism

Photo: Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via Reuters

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle delivered a devastating indictment of the U.K. royal family in their conservation with Oprah Winfrey: Both said unnamed relatives had expressed concern about what the skin tone of their baby would be. And they accused "the firm" of character assassination and "perpetuating falsehoods."

Why it matters: An institution that thrives on myth now faces harsh reality. The explosive two-hour interview gave an unprecedented, unsparing window into the monarchy: Harry said his father and brother "are trapped," and Markle revealed that the the misery of being a working royal drove her to thoughts of suicide.

Updated 3 hours ago - Axios Twin Cities

In photos: Thousands rally for George Floyd ahead of Derek Chauvin's trial

Demonstrators on March 7 outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, charged with murdering George Floyd, will begin in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of protesters marched through Minneapolis' streets Sunday, urging justice for George Floyd on the eve of the start of former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial over the 46-year-old's death, per AFP.

The big picture: Chauvin faces charges for second-degree murder and manslaughter over Floyd's death last May, which ignited massive nationwide and global protests against racism and for police reform. His trial is due to start Monday, with jury selection procedures.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
7 hours ago - Health

Pfizer CEO feels "liberated" after taking COVID vaccine

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla tells "Axios on HBO" that he recently received his first of two doses of the company's coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: Bourla told CNBC in December that company polling found that one of the most effective ways to increase confidence in the vaccine was to have the CEO take it.