2/10/2016 | 1 MINUTE READ

NHTSA Says Technology Could Be the “Driver” for Autonomous Cars

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The automatic cars Google Inc. is developing may not need a human pilot because their self-driving technology could qualify as the "driver" under federal law.

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The automatic cars Google Inc. is developing may not need a human pilot because their self-driving technology could qualify as the "driver" under federal law.

So says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a lengthy letter to the company, Reuters reports.

"We agree with Google its [cars] will not have a driver' in the traditional sense," the agency says. "The next question is whether and how Google could certify that its [technology] meets a standard developed and designed to apply to a vehicle with a human driver."

NHTSA notes that current U.S. safety standards still require even autonomous vehicles to be equipped with controls a human could use to brake, accelerate and steer. But it indicates those requirements might be rewritten if Google can prove they aren't necessary.

Google contends that equipping an autonomous car with such features could actually reduce safety by enabling humans to override the vehicle's presumably superior decisions.

Reuters points out it could take years to rewrite federal safety standards to exempt automatic cars from rules that dictate the design, placement and operation of vehicle controls. But NHTSA agrees developers of self-driving systems could seek waivers for at least some of those regulations.

Last month the agency said it would produce guidelines for self-driving cars before July. It also indicated it might allow developers to ignore certain safety rules to help accelerate tests of autonomous vehicles on public roads. NHTSA has estimated traffic fatalities could be reduced about 80% if all vehicles were controlled automatically.