NHTSA Says Computer Can Be Considered Driver of Car

The computer that pilots the self-driving Google car could be interpreted as the vehicle’s driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency stated its position in a letter issued to Google on Feb. 4, and the decision could speed along plans to bring computer-piloted cars to roads in Maryland and across the U.S.

On Nov. 12, Google submitted a design proposal for its self-driving car to the NHTSA. The proposal said the fully-automated car “has no need for a human driver.” In its response, the NHTSA agreed with Google’s assertion that the new vehicle “will not have a ‘driver’ in the traditional sense.” The agency said it will interpret the Google car’s driver to be the computer, not any of the vehicle’s human occupants.

According to automotive experts, the NHTSA’s decision to recognize the Google car’s artificial intelligence as a viable driver could significantly hasten the adoption of self-driving cars on U.S. roadways. The distinction could allow Google and other automakers to design cars that communicate directly with the vehicle’s computerized pilot, and not necessarily with the human occupants. For example, current federal regulations require vehicles to have dashboard alerts notifying occupants of safety hazards like low tire pressure. The NHTSA’s decision opens debate about whether self-driving cars should notify only the autopilot of such safety issues or also the humans riding in the car. There is also debate about whether self-driving cars should offer traditional features like human-operated steering wheels and brakes. Google believes those options could tempt humans to interfere with the autopilot, which could endanger themselves and others.

While the future of autonomous cars may be bright, negligent drivers will continue to cause car accidents in Maryland and around the country, often resulting in serious injuries to others on the road at the time. A person who has been injured in such an accident may want to have the representation of an attorney in seeking compensation from the at-fault motorist.