No hands ... what the Google car ''sees'', demonstrated on the streets of Nevada. Photo: AP
DRIVERLESS cars are to be allowed on the roads of Nevada, which has become the first American state to allow the vehicles to be licensed for the open highway.
Google has come up with the ultimate version of cruise control by using video cameras, lasers and radar sensors to control the car.
It relies on mapping, which is created by Google staff who have driven the routes filling in the location of lane markings and road signs.
An occupant of the car must still be designated as the driver. But he or she will be able to spend the journey on the phone or texting without putting other motorists at risk.
Manufacturers have been working on taking human error out of driving for more than a decade with innovations such as lane departure warning, self applying brakes and cars which park themselves. But the Google car takes this a step further.
A test car has covered 225,300 kilometres without any mishap - apart from being nudged from behind at a set of traffic lights.
Vehicles have been driven up the Las Vegas strip, across San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and along the Pacific Coast highway.
The driverless car was designed by Sebastian Thrun, a professor at Stanford University and a vice-president at Google.
The vehicle was approved for use on Nevada's roads by Bruce Breslow, the Department of Motor Vehicles director, who was given a ride in one of the cars.
''I sat in the back seat first, looking at the laptop that shows what the vehicle is seeing,'' he said. ''My apprehension disappeared after about five seconds.
''Once I felt confident that the car could see better than I could, they allowed me to get behind the wheel.''
There was some scepticism whether driverless cars will ever be seen in Britain from Robert Gifford, executive director of the parliamentary council for transport safety. ''Our regulations require a driver to be in control of the vehicle at all times. It would be impossible for these cars to be allowed on our roads,'' he said.
''The need is there for the driver to be assisted, but not replaced by the technology … The government has to understand how the technology will develop over the next decade and get ahead of the game rather than respond to it.''