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The US vehicle safety regulators have said that the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car can be considered as the driver under federal law, reports Reuters. This move clears a major hurdle for making autonomous cars legally acceptable.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will interpret driver in context of what is controlling the car, i.e. the self driving system, rather than any of the vehicle occupants. However, safety requirements like requiring a foot activated braking system will still be enforced on all vehicles for the time being.

This ruling will also imply that autonomous car manufacturers will have to make sure information like the tire pressure, which is mandatorily displayed on the dashboard for human drivers, will have to be passed on to the automated system. The NHTSA however raised the question if such information should be made available to human occupants as well. Additionally, the agency said that federal rules will have to be formally rewritten before cars without brakes and steering wheels could be offered.

Regardless of the other hurdles, this ruling will effectively make autonomous drivers legal entities responsible for the vehicle and pave a way for regulations for future autonomous cars to come without brakes, steering wheels, human controlled turn indicators etc. Google for its part had argued that providing humans with controls in an autonomous vehicle would actually be detrimental to road safety performance.

Self-driving cars in California: Last month, California’s state Department of Motor Vehicle said that autonomous car makers will be required to submit a disengagement report – a list of every time a human driver had to take over the car. This year, it included submissions from Bosch, Delphi, Google, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, and Volkswagen Group.

At the time, Google reported that it had experienced 341 significant disengagement events over 682,000 km, Nissar reported 2390 km and 106 disengagements while Delphi reported 26,815 km and 405 disengagements. In June last year, Google reported that it had been in 13 minor accidents with its self-driving cars, none of which was the fault of the self-driving car.