NHTSA's decision that Google's self-driving AI "can be a driver" is a major boost for the industry

By midian182
Feb 10, 2016
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  1. Google has won a major victory in the quest to get its self-driving cars onto public roads after the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that the autonomous system piloting the vehicles can be considered the ‘driver’.

    The decision, which came via a letter from the NHTSA to Google on February 4, is a major breakthrough for Google and the many other companies that are developing self-driving cars, and one that brings autonomous vehicles another step closer to the public.

    "If no human occupant of the vehicle can actually drive the vehicle, it is more reasonable to identify the driver as whatever (as opposed to whoever) is doing the driving," the NHTSA said. "In this instance, an item of motor vehicle equipment, the Self-Driving System, is actually driving the vehicle."

    The NHTSA’s letter was in response to a request submitted by Google in November to see how federal safety regulations would apply to self-driving cars; this included rules relating to seats, mirrors, and brake pedals. Google also wanted to know if its cars had to follow the rule that requires all vehicles to have an “occupant seat for the driver.”

    As the NHTSA classes the ‘driver’ as the self-driving system, “the ‘driver’ in this provision would not need an occupant seat.”

    Local and state regulators are racing to update their road safety rules to take into account the upcoming self-driving vehicle technology, but the companies making the cars aren’t always happy with the decisions. In December, a proposed California DMV law said that all autonomous vehicles must have a steering wheel and a licensed driver must be present to take over if the vehicle’s systems fail.

    Google has expressed concerns that giving passengers the ability to take over an autonomous vehicle’s controls and override the decisions of the AI could increase the risk of an accident.

    Karl Brauer, senior analyst for the Kelley Blue Book automotive research firm, told Reuters that there were still plenty of legal hurdles that autonomous vehicle makers needed to overcome. He did add, however, that if the "NHTSA is prepared to name artificial intelligence as a viable alternative to human-controlled vehicles, it could substantially streamline the process of putting autonomous vehicles on the road.”

    After today’s news and the NHTSA’s announcement in January that it may waive some vehicle safety rules to allow more driverless cars to operate in the US, it looks as if self-driving vehicles may be on the roads sooner than expected.

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  2. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,341   +1,939

    I'd feel far safer letting Googles autonomous vehicle drive me around than allowing most of the clowns on the roads who assume they know how to drive, do it.
    padlok likes this.
  3. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus TS Evangelist Posts: 1,536   +288

    I want one.
    padlok likes this.
  4. Win7Dev

    Win7Dev TS Evangelist Posts: 537   +152

    Sounds good to me.
  5. Raoul Duke

    Raoul Duke TS Guru Posts: 860   +308

    If the AI is the driver, who pays the ticket for any violations of the law? Can the AI go to court to dispute the ticket? Can they go to jail for not paying the ticket?
  6. umbala

    umbala TS Addict Posts: 163   +135

    You'll have to be more specific. What ticket are you talking about? Speeding ticket? I doubt these cars will go over the speed limit. Parking ticket? My guess is they can detect where they can and can't park. As for accidents, I believe Google will cover any damages caused by their self driving cars. (This is also one of the reasons insurance companies are fighting tooth and nail to NOT allow self driving cars. Imagine a self driving car that needs no insurance because any damages are covered by Google.)
    padlok likes this.

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