LOS ANGELES - California regulators have unveiled a road map that would let consumers begin using self-driving cars, though manufacturers would have to prove the emerging technology is safe before a licensed driver could get chauffeured around town.
The approach California's Department of Motor Vehicles offered Wednesday in precedent-setting draft regulations is cautious, though it does allow for Californians to be behind the wheel of a self-driving car 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.
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 Google's self-driving car project, Ron Medford, said the technology is "close to working pretty damn well."
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 Austin welcomed Google prototypes for professional 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 in a written summary of its draft regulations.
Those rules set out how the DMV wants to move beyond the current small-scale testing of prototypes on public roads. The DMV can change the rules over the coming months before they are finalized.