Self-Driving Cars Score a Victory as NHTSA Says AI Can Be a "Driver"

By

Automotive Editor

Justin Cupler has specialized as an automotive writer since 2009 and has been published in multiple websites and online magazines. In addition to contributing to CarsDirect, Justin also hosts a web-series car-review show and dabbles in the world of personal-finance writing.

His specialty is in the high-performance realm, but he has a deep love and understanding for all things automotive. Before diving into the world of writing, Justin was an automotive technician and manager for six years and spent the majority of his younger life tinkering with classic muscle cars.

Follow On: Twitter | Website

, Automotive Editor - February 11, 2016

Self-driving cars have met with some serious hurdles as manufacturers attempt to test them on public roads. One huge obstacle has been how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines "driver." In the past, a “driver” has always been a human being, so Google—one of the leaders in developing self-driving technology—has been seeking clarification from the agency on this and many other regulations.

According to Reuters, Google finally got the some of the guidance it has been looking for in a long letter from NHTSA. While some questions remain unanswered or in the works, the huge question regarding the definition of a driver has finally been put to bed. In the letter, it says "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."

This is a huge victory for the eventual development and sale of self-driving cars, as it allows the companies producing these vehicles to treat their AI as a human in order to clear some of the safety hurdles. Things like tire pressure monitoring systems, which alert the driver of low tire pressure, would simply need to alert the computer of the issue to be compliant.

Though this is a huge step forward, and while NHTSA said it will ease some of its regulations for these cars, these changes will not be immediate. One sticking point remains the fact that the government does not want to back off its requirements for a steering wheel and an operable brake pedal for a human driver.

The latter brings up the issue of what interaction—if any—humans would have with these cars. Google is of the opinion that installing a steering wheel and brake pedal could cause unnecessary interference with the AI and cause more issues. But local lawmakers in California are drafting rules that mirror those NHTSA already has in place.

Regardless, NHTSA new definition of "driver" is a win in the development of autonomous cars.

Apparently, we still have a long way to go before we see fully autonomous cars on the road, but there are plenty of semi-autonomous features offered by high-end cars, like the 2016 BMW 750i. What’s more, this big and semi-autonomous Bimmer has great deals like 2.92 percent APR for 72 months and lease deals starting as low as $1,349 per month after paying $7,524 at signing.

, Automotive Editor

Justin Cupler has specialized as an automotive writer since 2009 and has been published in multiple websites and online magazines. In addition to contributing to CarsDirect, Justin also hosts a web-series car-review show and dabbles in the world of personal-finance writing.

His specialty is in the high-performance realm, but he has a deep love and understanding for all things automotive. Before diving into the world of writing, Justin was an automotive technician and manager for six years and spent the majority of his younger life tinkering with classic muscle cars.

Follow On: Twitter | Website