The future is here. But it's going to take some getting used to. One aspect of that involves the federal government reclassifying the term of "driver" so that computer controlled, driver-less cars are able to roam the thoroughfares and highways unabated, just as normal human drivers do.
On par for the course, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has redefined the term "driver" to be inclusive of self-driving cars. This represents a notable step forwards, especially for companies like Google, which is developing a car that does not have a steering wheel, pedals or a human driver.
The agency recently said that it would recognize the updated definition of driver, as proposed in a Google letter that was issued to them. But it did not concede entirely, noting that certain federal rules would have to be amended in order for the concept to take full force.
"NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the SDS (self-driving system) and not to any of the vehicle occupants," Paul Hemmersbaugh, NHTSA's chief counsel, stated in a written letter.
While this is a positive step in the right direction, things are not rolling at full speed just yet. The agency rejected numerous claims by Google that its cars are in compliance with federal safety standards - amongst which two were noted: a vehicle that has foot and hand brakes.
Google has countered, saying that the cars do not require these elements because only a computer can stop them, not a human. Still, the regulations that are in place would have to be modified for Google to tout this as a win.
"In a number of instances, it may be possible for Google to show that certain standards are unnecessary for a particular vehicle design," Hemmersbaugh wrote. "To date, however, Google has not made such a showing."
Google has been making claims that its driver-less cars would be ready for public use in just a few years. The federal government has said it is interested in bringing this technology to the public, provided it's proven to be safe. This would require that the automaker certifies that the cars meet the biding federal standards, and that they receive the necessary agency approval first.
The current plan is to adopt a model policy that states can choose to follow or ignore. This policy would allow for federally regulated and autonomous cars to be driven on public roadways. It would ultimately pave the way for the future of this technology.
Currently, there are seven states that allow for the testing of these vehicles, including D.C. and California.
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