“License and registration, please.”

“But, Officer, I wasn’t driving. My car was.”

That might seem like an outlandish exchange, but with driverless cars becoming a reality, it might not be impossible in the near future. Especially because of new legislation popping up in states around the US.

Driving Without a License

While public opinion is still up in the air about autonomous vehicles, as you can see in this recent article on The Right Lane, government opinions are being decided right now. And up until this point, these cars have been largely unregulated.

The vehicles themselves are still regulated like vehicles that don’t drive themselves. For example, Google has used a Toyota Prius, an Audi TT, and a Lexus RX450h for their autonomous vehicles. Those cars still have to meet the same standards that the identical models must meet for a person to drive them on the roads here in the US. On the other hand, the technology that makes them driverless vehicles for Google has until recently been ungoverned.

New Laws for Driverless Car

In June 2011, Nevada became the first to pass legislation that governs these self-driving cars. The new law gave the Nevada DMV the power to determine safety and performance minimums for legal operation of driverless cars. It also gave the agency the power to designate what areas of the state are legal for testing the cars. Then in May 2012, Nevada became the first state to issue a license for a driverless car. (Unlike the laws for human driver’s licenses, driverless cars aren’t required to take an ID photo that’s too embarrassing to show their friends.)

Since Nevada’s law passed, other states have acted on the issue. Just this month, California issued its 1st permits for driverless cars. As of today, 4 states officially have laws on the books. Those states include Nevada, California, Florida, and Michigan. Washington DC has enacted similar laws too. Several more cities and states are currently in the process of creating new legislation for these types of vehicles.

The Driving Test

If your driving test was anything like mine, your heart was pounding as you eased out of the parking lot with the DMV agent watching every move like a hawk. Well, the tests for driverless cars aren’t that different in the states issuing permits for the cars. A DMV employee accompanies a human driver along on a road test and notes problems with the driving. Those problems amount to anything that breaks a driving law or any time the car returns driving control to the human operator. If there are too many problems, the DMV can deny the license.

An Automaton Abroad

The US isn’t alone in recent attempts to regulate autonomous cars. The United Kingdom and the European Union have passed laws that control everything from where the cars can operate themselves to parking for the cars. Many of the laws in Europe were passed before the US’s laws and could actually make it easier for driverless cars to populate the European roadways sooner than in the States.

It really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that European nations are ahead of the curve on this matter. Many of the cars and companies trying to perfect the technologies are European. In addition to Google — which uses European vehicles for many of its autonomous vehicles — Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Volvo are leading the way toward streets without human drivers.

Stay tuned to The Right Lane for more developments on driverless car technology.