Google’s self-driving cars to be recognised as a ‘driver’

In a letter to Google, the NHTSA defined that the computer inside Google’s self-driving cars can be considered a driver

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Google’s self-driving cars to be recognised as a ‘driver’ Google's self-driving cars have received divided opinion from federal and state regulators, but this announcement is a major breakthrough for the tech giant (Getty Images)
By  Aasha Bodhani Published  February 10, 2016

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that the artificial intelligence inside Google's self-driving cars will now be identified as a driver.

Google's self-driving cars have received divided opinion from federal and state regulators, but this announcement, is perhaps, a major breakthrough for the tech giant.

The NHTSA sent a letter to Google's head of the self-driving car project, Chris Urmson, who petitioned that the same policies in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards should also apply to Google's self-driving cars, to confirm its decision.

The letter included: "As a foundational starting point for the interpretations below, NHTSA will interpret driver in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the SDS, and not to any of the vehicle occupants. We agree with Google its SDV will not have a driver in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years.

"If no human occupant of the vehicle can actually drive the vehicle, it is more reasonable to identify the driver as whatever (as opposed to whoever) is doing the driving. In this instance, an item of motor vehicle equipment, the SDS, is actually driving the vehicle."

Despite the concerns that self-driving cars are not smart enough yet to be on the roads without a driver, in particular voiced by Californian regulators last year, who imposed the legislation and said autonomous vehicles should have driving controls inside. Google responded at the time saying such an approach would limit technology progress.

Nevertheless, this move has paved the way for the autonomous car industry and Google's self-driving initiative. In fact, the NHTSA predicts autonomous-driving technologies can lower the death toll from vehicle crashes in the US ever year.

Earlier this year the Obama administration proposed a $4bn commitment to the autonomous industry.

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