A self-driving car produced by Google is one step closer to being allowed on public roads, following a significant ruling by the US government.
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has successfully managed to convince the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) that the software used in Google’s self-driving cars should be considered the driver, not the human in the vehicle.
This is a significant precedent for companies – such as Google – who are developing automated cars, in the hopes that they can eventually be allowed on public roads.
The NHTSA’s decision was revealed after Google published the contents of the letter it had received from the federal agency. In the letter, the NHTSA said:
“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. In this instance, an item of motor vehicle equipment, the Self-Driving System, is actually driving the vehicle.”
Last November, Google submitted a request to the federal transportation safety board, to clarify the rules about safety feature such as seats and brake pedals, for a self-driving car. The letter from the NHTSA was in response to this request.
According to Google, its automated cars have driven more than one million test miles around the states of California, Texas and Washington, and the most recent version comes without a brake lever or steering wheel. This is to improve safety, with the letter saying that including them “could be detrimental to safety because the human occupants could attempt to override” the decisions made by the car’s software.