Feds Will Accept Google's Self-Driving Computers as Legal Drivers

Stephen Elmer
by Stephen Elmer

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.

SEE ALSO: Google is Working on Wireless Charging for its Self-Driving Cars

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.

[Source: Reuters]
Stephen Elmer
Stephen Elmer

Stephen covers all of the day-to-day events of the industry as the News Editor at AutoGuide, along with being the AG truck expert. His truck knowledge comes from working long days on the woodlot with pickups and driving straight trucks professionally. When not at his desk, Steve can be found playing his bass or riding his snowmobile or Sea-Doo. Find Stephen on <A title="@Selmer07 on Twitter" href="http://www.twitter.com/selmer07">Twitter</A> and <A title="Stephen on Google+" href="http://plus.google.com/117833131531784822251?rel=author">Google+</A>

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  • Soakee Soakee on Feb 10, 2016

    And will the self-driving computer need to be dragged into court when it is sued by an ambulance-chasing lawyer?