U.S. vehicle safety regulators have said the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, of its decision in a previously unreported Feb. 4 letter to the company posted on the agency's website this week. Google's self-driving car unit on Nov. 12 submitted a proposed design for a self-driving car that has'no need for a human driver,' the letter to Google from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh said. At a Senate hearing, representatives of General Motors and Delphi touted numerous safety and environmental benefits of autonomous vehicles. In January, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it may waive some vehicle safety rules to allow more driverless cars to operate on US roads.
Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent Alphabet, is pushing to get rid of many traditional car features, including mirrors, pedals and the steering wheel. It urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to'promptly' remove regulatory barriers for cars necessitating they have all traditional features. Legislation controlling the manufacture of cars dictates they must meet more than 70 auto safety standards, even if they are redundant. Waymo says a lot of the rules are not vital to self-driving cars because they work and operate in a completely different way to traditional vehicles. Waymo urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to'promptly' remove regulatory barriers for cars necessitating they have traditional features (file photo) Waymo, as well as Honda, Uber and Lyft, penned a letter to NHTSA asking for progress to be made in refining the rules to help streamline the development of autonomous cars.
For California state officials, the new federal guidelines on testing and deployment of driverless cars come as a bit of a relief. Until this week, the absence of U.S. government guidance had left the state Department of Motor Vehicles -- generally in charge of registering vehicles and issuing drivers' licenses -- to take the lead role in drafting regulations to ensure the safety of self-driving vehicles. Though the federal guidelines issued Tuesday are short on specifics, the Department of Transportation will take responsibility for regulating the driving hardware and software, and it has devised a model state policy that probably will take the pressure off individual state agencies. That policy, issued jointly by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, could result in changes to current California draft regulations on autonomous vehicles. "You can imagine how the California DMV would be struggling, with no technological background or engineers at their disposal, trying to figure out whether a particular autonomous vehicle is or is not safe enough to be deployed," said Robert Peterson, a law professor at Santa Clara University.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Federal regulators, faced with a growing number of self-driving car tests on roads across the U.S., plan to issue a flurry of new guidelines Tuesday aimed at automakers and tech companies. The U.S. Department of Transportation will require any new tech to meet a 15-point safety assessment, consider new powers to allow administrators to limit the deployment of experimental vehicles, and will issue a model for state self-driving car policies aimed at developing a cohesive set of national regulations. Officials will solicit public comments on the topic of self-driving car regulations for the next 60 days on the Transportation Department website and plan to update self-driving car policies annually. "We're laying it out there, what we care about, and inviting the industry to show us how they meet those standards," Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters during a briefing late Monday. "Some companies haven't dealt with us, but they'll learn quickly we can go really deep on these topics.
Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving cars program, will tell the Senate Commerce Committee that legislators should grant new authority to the U.S. Transportation Department to help get fully autonomous vehicles on the road, acccording to his prepared testimony, which was reviewed by Reuters. "We propose that Congress move swiftly to provide the secretary of transportation with new authority to approve life saving safety innovations. This new authority would permit the deployment of innovative safety technologies that meet or exceed the level of safety required by existing federal standards, while ensuring a prompt and transparent process," according to the prepared testimony. Major automakers and technology companies are racing to develop and sell vehicles that can drive themselves, but have complained that state and federal safety rules are impeding testing and ultimate deployment of such vehicles. California in December proposed draft rules that would bar autonomous vehicles without human controls and a licensed driver.