Self-driving cars took a big step forward this month, as the U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it will update its rules classifying the computers as drivers. This process could take some time, but is looking positive for companies like Google that are investing in this technology.
“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,” wrote Paul A. Hemmersbaugh, chief counsel to the NHTSA, in a letter to Google.
The current federal rule states the driver of a motor vehicle must be seated immediately behind the steering control system and, obviously, only applies to humans. Now self-driving systems (SDSs) may be included in this definition, including vehicles that aren’t equipped with steering wheels or pedal brakes.
Google’s specific model is a “Level 4 – Full Self-Driving Automation.” It does not contain the typical steering and control features of vehicle, because Google was nervous about letting a human passenger override the decisions of the computer, which are in theory flawless.
The United States plans to spend $4 billion in the next decade on pilot projects for autonomous vehicles, according to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.