California has joined much of Europe as well as Nevada, Florida and Michigan in setting rules for how, when and where autonomous vehicle tests can take place.

The Californian Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has released guidelines for autonomous testing that will take effect on September 16, 2014. These rules don’t cover consumer operation of self-driving cars but instead outline an extensive list of criteria that must be met by manufacturers before a computer controlled test car can be let loose on the general public.

Manufacturers are required to prove their cars have successfully been tested in a controlled environment, and a trained "test driver" has to be ready to take control during the trial run. Sensibly, they’re also forced to report any accident involving a test vehicle, as well as any instances where the "driver" needs to take control.

Testing permits will last one year, and will only set you back US$150. The real cost lies in insurance: namely the $5 million policy you’ll need to even be considered for a permit.

Companies like Google and Volvo, who are at the forefront of development in this area, have already clocked-up many 1000's of miles of on-road testing and you could be sitting back and letting the car drive you sooner than you think. When that day does arrive, the regulators in California will be ready – the DMV says that rules governing consumer operation of autonomous vehicle are due for release in January 2015.

Source: DMV