No sooner have car companies complained about legislation tying their autonomous car research into knots, Washington has announced it will fast-track policies for driverless vehicles and maybe even waive regulations to do it.

US Department of Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx told representatives from car companies that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will spend the next six months developing guidance for automakers on what's expected of self-driving prototype cars and what sort of tests should be used to make sure they are safe.

The agency also will develop a model policy for states to follow if they decide to allow autonomous cars on public roads. That policy could eventually lead to consistent national regulations for autonomous cars. Currently individual states have their own rules.

California state laws, for example, require a human presence behind the wheel of robot cars and requires all autonomous vehicle testers to report failure incidents. Just yesterday, Google's figures revealed in a filing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles that humans have had to take the wheel of its driverless cars 341 times over 14 months to avoid accidents and software failures

Seven US states, along with Washington DC, allow autonomous vehicle testing on their roads. Foxx said the government believes self-driving vehicles could eventually cut traffic deaths, decrease highway congestion and improve the environment. He encouraged automakers to come to the government with ideas about how to speed their development.

In a statement, General Motors said it supports the government/industry collaboration to advance principles for autonomous vehicles given the company's shared goals for consumer safety and satisfaction. 

The statement added: "We see automation and autonomous technology leading to large advances in convenience, mobility and safety, since most crashes are caused by driver error. We are committed to working with the government and the rest of the industry on standards. GM has millions of miles of real-world experience with embedded connectivity through OnStar and advanced safety features that are the building blocks to more advanced autonomy features and eventually to autonomous vehicles."