The race is on to get autonomous cars on the roads. Manufacturers are taking pole position, but lawmakers are also on the grid, trying to balance the need for technology to progress with public safety. With this in mind, California has approved unmanned autonomous vehicle testing, allowing self-driving cars to roam the streets with no human backup behind the wheel.

Bill AB-1952 doesn't allow manufacturers to let their test vehicles loose on any old street in the Golden State. Instead, it applies to a pilot project being run by the Contra Costa Transport Authority, where shuttles will run workers around the San Ramon Bishop Ranch business park. The route they take also includes some time on public roads, however.

The approval also covers the GoMentum Station, a deserted test bed where brands like Honda and Otto are working on their systems.

Under the new rules, vehicles don't need a set of pedals or a steering wheel, but they will need to stay below 35 mph (56 km/h) as a safety measure.

Manufacturers will have to create a clear plan for how and where they'll be testing their cars, and the legislation demands insurance cover of US$5 million on test vehicles.