Google’s driverless car is legally a driver says US regulator

Google's driverless car
Google's driverless car
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Google’s driverless car system, a sophisticated piece of artificial intelligence, is now being declared the legal driver by a US regulator.

In a letter to Chris Urmson, director of the internet giant’s self-driving car project, the American government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration outlined its new stance.


Traditionally, vehicles without a driver physically behind the wheel would not be considered safe or roadworthy.

But over the past 100 years technological developments including the introduction of anti-lock brakes through to air bags and lane departure warnings have changed the face of driving.

In November Google asked the NHTSA to interpret current federal motor vehicle safety standards and how they apply to the car they are currently testing and developing.

READ MORE: Google to build ‘driverless cars’

The letter sent earlier this month reads: “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 SDS, is actually driving the vehicle.”

Google’s Self Driving System is an onboard computer that “controls all aspects of driving by perceiving its environment and responding to it”.

And the NHTSA agrees that no human occupant of Google’s autonomous vehicles could meet the criteria of a “driver” as they would not be capable of actually driving it.

Google’s fleet of prototype driverless cars rely on sensors and software to complete journeys.

Their shape is more rounded than normal cars to allow the lasers, radars and cameras to detect objects in all directions. They are powered by electric batteries and have an interior that is “designed for riding, not for driving”.

Earlier this month it was disclosed that transport bosses in London are in “active discussion” with Google in a bid to bring trials of the driverless cars to the UK.

It was also announced by the Government that they will invest £20 million in eight driverless car projects in the UK.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the technology would “profoundly change” travel within years - by reducing accidents and helping traffic flow.