Google computers officially count as drivers, US tells company in self-driving car regulation

The company marks a major step forward for Google, which wants to get its pod-like driving cars directing themselves around as soon as possible

US regulators have said for the first time that the artificially intelligent robot that drives Google’s autonomous cars is a “driver”.

The unprecedented decision marks a major step towards the roads filling up with autonomous vehicles, which Google hopes start driving themselves in years to come.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Google that it will consider the system inside the car as the driver, rather than any of the people sat in it.

The decision will help Google’s application to take a car that has “no need for a human driver” onto the road.

"NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants," a letter from the authority, reported by Reuters, said. "We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a 'driver' in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years."

The licensing and legal landscape is one of the big problems for driverless cars. Almost all motoring law has been written with human-controlled vehicles in mind, and automakers and tech companies are racing to make vehicles that can take control — if they are allowed on the road.

At the moment, Google’s self-driving cars are allowed to take themselves around the streets of California, where they are tested. But they must also have a person with a driving license sat in them, ready to take control in the event of any problems, as well as a full system for allowing that person to drive.

The company and the authority will now have to work together to prove that the system can drive as well as a human driver, according to the NHTSA.

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