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Driverless cars get a push from California legislators

Google car
A Google self-driving race car.Google

Legislators in California have begun the process of legalizing self-driving vehicles on the state's roads with a bill requiring the DMV to set safety and performance guidelines for them. Nevada did it last year, but California's larger market and influence could help set standards worldwide.

The bill, SB 1298, was passed unanimously by the state senate Wednesday and should be on the governor's desk soon. This short bill only sets out some basic requirements for the California DMV and Highway Patrol to work with:

The State of California, which presently does not prohibit or specifically regulate the operation of autonomous vehicles, desires to encourage the current and future development, testing, and operation of autonomous vehicles on the public roads of the state. The state seeks to avoid interrupting these activities while at the same time creating appropriate rules intended to ensure that the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles in the state are conducted in a safe manner.(d) Toward that end, the Legislature finds it appropriate to authorize the establishment of specific safety requirements for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles, and to require that future testing and operation of autonomous vehicles in the state comply with those requirements.

Any regulations and standards later developed for the DMV to enforce will likely be the subject of much scrutiny and debate, but SB 1298 should have no trouble being signed by the state's governor, Jerry Brown.

A Google self-driving race car.Google

Autonomous vehicles are already rolling around the state, of course: Google, based in Mountain View, has been working on them for years, and has even tested them out on city streets in San Francisco. The new law won't change much for them; in fact, with Google's experience designing self-driving cars, Google and other companies will likely be as integral to the discussion as the Highway Patrol.

There's no specific time frame, and of course it will be quite a while before autonomous vehicles will be sharing the road in anything more than a tentative manner. 

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.