NHTSA to consider software the driver in autonomous cars

The state of California has put forth a proposal that self-driving cars will need to have a licensed driver in the vehicle as well as a steering wheel. However, manufacturers say that such regulations are slowing down the development of the vehicles, and they may be getting assistance from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A letter of Feb. 4 from the NHTSA to Google says that for the purposes of federal law, the company's artificial intelligence can be considered the driver of its autonomous vehicles. This will remove some obstacles in the path of tech companies and manufacturers who are working on driverless cars by allowing regulations regarding driver notification to apply to the computer. For example, in a conventional car, a dashboard alert is required to indicate low tire pressure. In driverless cars, that information will be transmitted to the computer.

How much information and control passengers will have has not yet been decided. Federal regulations currently require a car to have a brake that can be operated with a foot. However, the NHTSA has expressed willingness to waive some safety regulations and to rewrite rules taking into account the different situation of self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars may eventually become very popular and even standard on the roads, and their developers say that they will be safer than cars driven by humans. Human drivers cause car accidents through errors such as temporary distractions and through bigger lapses in judgment such as driving while fatigued or under the influence of alcohol. When another person is injured as a result, the driver could be held responsible for the victim's medical expenses and other losses in a personal injury lawsuit filed with the assistance of an attorney.

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