Driverless cars could hit California roads as early as 2018

The revised state regulations will allow testing of autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the steering wheel, and public use of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology, the state said.

The new regulations would require that manufacturers testing driverless cars on California roads certify that they're meeting federal standards and that any public paperwork shared with federal regulators on driverless testing is also passed to the DMV. Well, at least, in California; and that does not necessarily mean they will be for sale.

More than 40 companies are testing self-driving vehicles in California with human controls, and most automakers have autonomous research centres in the state, which is the largest US auto market. Coincidentally, U.S. Congress is now reviewing new legislation to restrict state power over self-driving vehicle rules and limitations.

Waymo, the self-driving vehicle unit of Google parent company Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), Ford Motor Co (F.N), Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), General Motors Co (GM.N) had sought changes in California. The DMV will then submit the new rules to the state government to start enforcing them in 2018.

There are 285 autonomous vehicles licensed with the DMV and 996 drivers licensed to test those vehicles, DMV officials said.

It's worth noting that self-driving trucks (or any autonomous vehicle weighing over 10,000 lbs) will still require a human behind the wheel.

Manufacturers complained that this requirement was "overly broad" and potentially prohibitive to their development and testing cycle, and in response the CA DMV adjusted the regulation so that a new application must only be filed if a technology change meets one of a certain set of conditions, such as a change in the vehicle's SAE level - a standard measurement for the level of autonomy a vehicle possesses.

Accordingly, California Department of Motor Vehicles Director Jean Shiomoto comments, "The department looks forward to seeing those companies and additional companies advance the technology under these new regulations".

The administration has responsibility to regulate safety in the design and performance of vehicles, while states regulate drivers and vehicle operations.

Consumer Watchdog criticized the revisions, saying California should stick to its earlier, stricter state requirements.

Congress is now considering legislation that would allow companies to manufacture and deploy cars without traditional controls like pedals and steering wheels.

Automakers would be able to win exemptions from safety rules that require human controls if they met certain requirements.