The landmark, but cautious, approach by the state’s department of Motor Vehicles in draft regulations means Californians could be self-driving by 2017.
Among other safety- related requirements, the cars must have a steering wheel and a licensed driver must be ready to take over if the machine fails.
However, Google, which is pushing to get cars without a steering wheel or pedals to consumers, expressed “grave disappointment” with the rules, which the tech giant said would slow deployment of technology with huge life-saving potential.
Though no manufacturer has said it thinks the cars are ready just yet, at least a dozen are developing the technology.
Google has suggested a model could be ready for limited use sooner than the public expects. In September, the safety chief of its project, Ron Medford, said the technology was “close to working pretty damn well”.
Google is 'disappointed' by California's new self-driving car regulations https://t.co/kmoNs0A04x— TIME (@TIME) December 17, 2015
California’s go-slow approach could benefit Texas, which this summer emerged as a competitor in the deployment of self-driving cars when officials in its capital city of Austin welcomed Google prototypes for company-sponsored testing.
“Given the potential risks associated with deployment of such a new technology, DMV believes that manufacturers need to obtain more experience in testing driverless vehicles on public roads prior to making this technology available to the general public,” the agency said.
Those proposed rules set out how the DMV wants to move beyond the current small-scale testing of prototypes on public roads.
The agency can change the rules over the coming months before they are finalised and the industry is sure to lobby for significant changes.
That process will further delay rules that were due at the start of 2015.
There are no comprehensive federal rules addressing the technology, and as the largest car market in the US, rules in California are a landmark in the development of self-drives.
Under California’s framework, manufacturers would get a permit for three years, where consumers could lease the cars but manufacturers would be required to keep tabs on how safely they are driving and report that performance to the state.