In a move that’s raising lots of eyebrows over dashboards, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says that software powering autonomous cars fits the legal definition of a human driver.
The interpretation from the federal office came after Google submitted a request last November inquiring about rules for driverless vehicles.
At issue was whether an autonomous vehicle needed a driver’s seat.
The NHTSA responded with a lengthy letter and in it, they addressed the question, among others.
They wrote, “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 safety administration also suggested that “Because the interpretations provided by this letter do not fully resolve all of the issues Google has raised, Google may wish to explore the interim step of seeking exemptions.”
So far, several states, including California, Florida, Michigan, Virginia, Nevada and the District of Columbia have all passed some kind of law that allows for autonomous vehicles to legally drive in parts or all of the state.
But if companies such as Google want to mass-produce self-driving vehicles and make them available nationwide, they’ll need approval from the NHTSA as as well as updates to laws and regulations.
This appears to be a step in that direction.
Just make sure to look both ways before crossing the street.