Reuters is reporting that U.S. regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have concluded that the artificial intelligence behind autonomous vehicles may be considered a “driver” for purposes of United States law. In a letter to Google from NHTSA’s Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh advised, “NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants.”
The decision is seen as a major step forward in clearing regulatory hurdles associated with the century-old model based on human drivers. If the car’s computer is the driver for legal purposes, then it clears the way for Google or automakers to design vehicle systems that communicate directly with the vehicle’s artificial pilot. Google told NHTSA that the real danger is having auto safety features that could tempt humans to try to take control.