In a response to a letter send be Google to the US regulators towards clarifying safety standards, NHTSA said that the self-driving software would be interpreted as a driver.
After US regulators tightened the safety rules for autonomous testing, the Transportation Department said last month it may give up on some rules to allow the automakers to send more self-driving cars on public roads, as part of the government’s efforts to speed up the development of this technology. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles is working on new regulations for the everyday use of autonomous cars with the goal of releasing them in the next year, standards deemed by Google as limiting the development of such technologies. These rules would require a licensed driver, a steering wheel and pedals in case of unforeseen circumstances. Therefore, the companies involved in self-driving tests are seeking clarifications, as they are receiving different signals from the regulators.
In this regard, Google sent a letter requesting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to interpret a number of provisions in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, so the tech giant would know exactly what path to follow with its tests in the future. According to Google, its self-driving vehicles are fully autonomous motor vehicles, and the smart software behind them does not impose the need for a human driver. As a response, NHTSA agreed with Google that its cars “will not have a ‘driver’ in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than 100 years,” the agency said in a letter to Chris Urmson, director of the company’s self-driving car project. “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,” Paul Hemmersbaugh, NHTSA’s chief counsel, said in the letter. In Google’s case, its self-driving system “is actually driving the vehicle,” he wrote. Google is examining NHTSA’s letter and will come up with a plan for how to proceed, said Johnny Luu, a company spokesman.