The founders of Google and one of their autonomous Toyota Prius hybridsEnlarge Photo
Way back in 2012, California Governor Jerry brown signed SB 1298 into law, which allowed autonomous vehicles and their non-drivers to roam the state's roads with impunity.
But as Cnet points out, that was just the first step toward granting legal status to self-driving cars: manufacturers and modifiers still had to wrestle with the Department of Motor Vehicles. (Stop us if you've heard that one before.)
Now, after a year and a half, autonomous-car builders have finally emerged from the DMV's bureaucratic gauntlet. Earlier this week, the state agency announced that it had "adopted regulations governing how manufacturers can test autonomous vehicles on California roads, effective September 16, 2014".
Unfortunately, the new regs only cover testing an autonomous vehicle, not owning and operating one, which will be addressed in a separate set of guidelines. Because (a) developing the two sets of rules simultaneously would be too sensible, and (b) what kind of DMV would it be if someone didn't say, "Now you have to go wait in that other line"? As the agency explains:
"Today's regulations only address manufacturer testing requirements; they do not address rules for operation of autonomous vehicles by the public. Rules governing public operation of autonomous vehicles are currently being developed by DMV and are expected to be adopted by January 1, 2015."
In other words, manufacturers (like Audi) and modifiers (like Google) can test autonomous cars all they like, but they can't sell them to anyone until at least January 1. Assuming the DMV stays on schedule, that is.
As frustrating as that may be, it's not as if we think autonomous vehicles will appear in showrooms during the next couple of months. Of all the automakers we've seen, Toyota has the most aggressive rollout schedule, and it's not planning to debut anything until the "mid-2010s".
And who knows? Maybe the delay is for the best. At least one person in the know believes that autonomous cars are going to cause more traffic congestion, not less -- and in California, making traffic worse is no easy task.
On the off-chance that you're interested in testing self-driving cars on California's roads, you can find out how to make your operations legal by visiting the autonomous car section of the DMV website.