Feds say they’ll count computers as human drivers


The federal government says that when it comes to regulating self-driving cars, computers and software systems can be considered the “driver” of the vehicle. It’s a major moment in the effort to introduce autonomous driving to America’s roads, which is hampered as much by regulatory questions as by technological hurdles. But really, it’s just a starting point for figuring out how to update the arcane labyrinth of rules that govern how our cars work now.

The news came in a letter from the branch of the Department of Transportation that handles car regulations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to Google, which had asked for clarification on rules that pertain to the self-driving car it’s developing, which lacks a steering wheel and pedals. “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,” the feds’ letter to Google says. “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.” <Read More>