DETROIT Computers that control cars of the future can be considered drivers just like humans, the federal government’s highway safety agency has decided.
The redefinition of “driver” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is an important break for Google, which is developing self-driving cars that get around without steering wheels, pedals — or even the need for a person to be inside.
Though treating a computer like a driver for regulatory purposes helps Google, its cars have miles to go before they get on the road in great numbers. While the safety agency agreed with Google’s “driver” reinterpretation in a recent letter, it didn’t allow other concessions and said numerous federal rules would have to be changed to permit the cars.
Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., is testing dozens of prototypes in California, Texas and Washington. The company has suggested they could be ready for the public in a few years.
After several years of caution, federal regulators said last month that they wanted to help speed the widespread adoption of self-driving cars if they prove to be safe.
In January at the Detroit auto show, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said his department wants to get self-driving cars on the road quickly and will fast-track policies and possibly even waive regulations to do it.
Self-driving vehicles could eventually cut traffic deaths, decrease highway congestion and improve the environment, Foxx said. He encouraged automakers to come to the government with ideas about how to speed their development. (AP)