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NHTSA Decides Google’s Self-Driving Car Computer Counts as Driver

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Google Car Driver not driver

Reuters has reported some interesting legal news this week, about a letter sent to Google by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in response to a proposed design for a self-driving car (with no need of a driver).

The most interesting part reads, “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. 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.”


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So, in other words, in this car, the NHTSA is saying that the people in it would not be considered the “driver” of the car—the computer would, meaning that the artificial intelligence of the vehicle’s systems would be considered a viable alternative to human drivers.

This has a number of legal implications. For one thing, this will accelerate development, as this allows Google (or other autonomous-car-building companies) to design systems that communicate directly with the car’s piloting program. On the other hand, if the system is the “driver” of the car, then it is possible that in the event of an accident, Google, and not the people in the car, would be considered responsible.


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In any case, the no-human-input version of the Google autonomous car is far off, as the NHTSA also wrote that existing regulations require certain safety equipment, including a foot-operated brake pedal, a steering wheel, etc., which Google worries could encourage people to intervene in the car’s decisions and cause a crash. These regulations would need to be formally rewritten before Google could offer cars without them.

News Source: Reuters