NHTSA to consider software driver in self-driving car

When Google’s self-driving cars finally hit Pennsylvania roads, their software will be considered the driver for purposes of federal law based on a Feb. 4 letter the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted on its website. This is one of several issues that must be addressed before development on these vehicles by Google and other developers can move forward. The decision by the NHTSA means that issues that a vehicle would have communicated to a human driver via a mechanism like a dashboard alert can be communicated to the car’s artificial intelligence.

Whether the passengers in the car will be alerted as well is undecided, and it is part of a larger debate about whether human drivers will be able to override the autonomous car’s decisions. California has proposed that self-driving cars should have both a licensed driver and a steering wheel, but Google says that such an override poses safety issues.

Federal regulations also require a brake that can be operated by the foot in a car. However, the NHTSA has said it is willing to waive some safety requirements if Google provides satisfactory documentation. It may also be necessary to rewrite some regulations with an eye to the mechanisms of self-driving cars.

One reason some experts are pushing the self-driving cars is because they are expected to make the roads safer. At present, thousands of people are injured annually in car accidents, and those accidents are often the fault of a negligent driver. A person who is injured in an accident may want to speak to an attorney about negotiating with the at-fault motorist’s insurance company and possibly filing a lawsuit against the driver if the offer from the insurance company is insufficient.