On September 16th, 2014, California will take one step closer to the utopian (or dystopian) future, allowing self-driving cars on public roads. And the state's new autonomous vehicle regulations should help prevent the murder-bot anarchy that opponents are worried about.

The rules approved by the California Department of Motor Vehicles came after a series of draft proposals and a period of public comment. Considering how futuristic autonomous cars sound, the rules are rather conservative. Manufacturers wishing to test autonomous vehicles must apply for a permit, provide a minimum of $5 million in insurance, and have a human driver behind the wheel of any autonomous vehicle that hits the public roads.

And that driver isn't just some bub off the sidewalk: anyone sliding behind the wheel of a self-driving car must carry an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Program Test Vehicle Operator Permit, obtained after an advanced defensive driver training program. And if an autonomous vehicle test driver has to disengage the self-driving system for any reason during a test drive, the DMV gets alerted.


That's actually pretty reassuring. As we figure out how to incorporate self-driving cars of the future into today's traffic, we'll need both real-world testing and robust failsafes. California's statewide laws will let both small and large companies in the autonomous car race get important real-world data behind their proposed systems. And heck, maybe a few efficiency-minded robodrivers will ever-so-slightly pare down Los Angeles' legendary traffic jams. [California DMV via Ars Technica]