The Google car has been all over the news in the recent days as the company works harder to bring this self-driving car to the roads.
The latest move was to start testing the autonomous cars in Kirkland, Washington. But this is reportedly set to begin somewhere towards the end of this month. In news that will be considered a boost towards the push towards bringing self-driving cars to the roads, U.S. vehicle safety regulators have revealed that the artificial intelligence that sits behind the wheel of the Google car can be considered as a driver as far as the federal law is concerned.
This information reached Google via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s unofficial letter dated February 4th. The Google car unit had sent a request to the NHTSA for designing a self-driving car with “no need for a human driver” and actually, the response received from the regulators seems to be positive as far as Google’s self-driving car efforts are concerned.
In NHTSA’s view, the self-driving AI system behind the car will be the driver of this motor vehicle and not the passengers in the car. In short, the regulators are in agreement with Google about bringing self-driving car technology to the roads. For more than 100 years, drivers have been known to be human, but things will soon be changing following this recognition by the U.S. regulators.
State and federal rules stand in the way of autonomous driving
According to Google and the few other companies that are chasing autonomous cars, state and federal safety rules have always stood in the way of any major developments in this industry. For instance, California demands that the self-driving cars must have a steering wheel and a licensed driver, something that these companies feel defeats the meaning of having a “self-driving” car.
However, with the latest statement from the NHTSA that actually classifies the self-driving system behind the Google car as a “driver”, there is with no doubt progress with respect to federal and state safety rules. It means that the computer of the car will be held accountable for any driving offenses. It also means there is no need of a licensed driver in a self-driving car, which only but opens the way for Google and other autonomous car making companies to design this kind of vehicles.
Even though the regulators might have shed some light on this matter, there is still a long way to go before these cars are approved to ride on highways. For instance, the federal agency demands that braking systems be activated by foot control, something that might still be standing in the way of these autonomous cars.
However, in January NHTSA hinted that it might ease some safety rules in order to let self-driving cars onto U.S. roads. This requires rewriting of the current regulations, something that the regulators reckon could take some time.