If you’re sitting in a self-driving car with no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal, who’s the real driver? Is it you, even though you have no way of controlling the vehicle, or is it the cold, emotionless A.I. that’s really at the wheel?
According to a response from the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA), it’s the car itself, at least as far as Google’s fleet of self-driving pods are concerned.
The response from the NHTSA comes as a reply to Google’s self-driving car project director Chris Urmson, who wrote to the agency looking for clarification on how the company could meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which is essential for a full-scale rollout of its autonomous vehicles.
Federal mandates require that a car’s brakes must be accessible to the vehicle’s driver. Since there is no pedal in Google’s cars and braking is controlled entirely by the self-driving system, the NHTSA ruled the car is therefore the driver and as such remains in compliance with the FMVSS.
It’s important to point out that this ruling makes no mention of liability, so in the event of an accident involving a self-driving car, its remains murky as to whether the owner, the car, or the car maker would be responsible for any damages.
However, the NHTSA’s ruling is pretty positive for Google’s as it clears up a potential roadblock in Google’s quest to eliminate the human element when it comes to driving.