Self-driving cars have overcome another regulatory hurdle as U.S. vehicle regulators say that the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving car can be the legal driver.
The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) told this to Google’s self-driving car unit in a letter after the tech company submitted plans for a self-driving car that has “no need for a human driver.”
“NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants,” a letter sent from NHTSA to Google said. “We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a ‘driver’ in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years.”
If the vehicle’s AI system is viewed legally as the driver, it means that companies can focus on developing systems that feed information directly to the vehicle’s artificial autopilot. As of now, rules require every vehicle to have a steering wheel and brake pedals, though if Google gets its way, these will likely be removed.
That’s because Google “expresses concern that providing human occupants of the vehicle with mechanisms to control things like steering, acceleration, braking… could be detrimental to safety because the human occupants could attempt to override the (self-driving system’s) decisions,” said the company.
Another example is the low tire-pressure light, which has to alert the driver when a tire needs air. In a self-driving car, this information could be provided directly to the computer brain, thought NHTSA is still trying to figure out if the humans inside the car should be alerted too. NHTSA will also need new ways of confirming that these systems are in place and working properly.
There are still plenty of regulatory hurdles for self-driving cars that will take years to change. NHTSA is working on new guidelines for self-driving cars and has announced its intention to seek exemptions to certain laws to help this technology reach the streets sooner.