The California DMV set a deadline of January 1 to establish rules that would govern self-driving cars. The only problem is DMV officials can't figure out exactly how to set safety standards for robotic chauffeurs that are still years away from production.

Back in 2012, the state passed a law that required the DMV to do two things: set standards for autonomous vehicle testing on California roads and publish rules for automakers to follow when selling self-driving cars in the state.

Since then, the DMV has established guidelines for prototypes, and permits have been issued to seven companies, including Google and Audi, to test on public roads. But state officials tell the Associate Press that they won't make the January 1 deadline for the rules governing the sale of autonomous cars simply because there's no way to set standards this early.

From the AP:

DMV officials say they won't let the public get self-driving cars until someone can certify that they don't pose an undue risk. The problem is that the technology remains so new there are no accepted standards to verify its safety. Absent standards, certifying safety would be like grading a test without an answer key.

This is one of the few times that legislation is actually getting ahead of emerging technologies. Except it's not, because the DMV can't agree on how to regulate it.

The state has a few options to solve the issue, none of which are particularly appealing.

First, it could allow automakers to self-certify, which manufacturers would love, but wouldn't instill much faith in the public. Secondly, the DMV could hire an outside agency to perform the tests, but of the four companies that responded to the DMV's request, none were ready to implement a program. And finally, the state could take on the certification process itself, but a lack of resources (among other things) makes that laughably unlikely.

In the interim, the DMV will host an event next month to get consumer groups, auto and tech industry folks, and other experts to hash out ideas.