Google's self-driving car could soon have the same legal rights as a human driver after the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration admitted that in place of there being no driver, Google's own computer was the legal driver of the vehicle.
This is a massive step forward for Google because while it doesn't afford Google's car the same legal rights as a human driver, it does at least acknowledge the existence of a driver at all, even if it's not human.
In an open email, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh said:
"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."
This acknowledges that Google's AI software which currently powers its self-driving car is being recognised as an entity. What this now means is that the car is able to apply for the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards which determines whether a car is roadworthy in the United States.
The decision by the NHTSA comes just a few weeks after California started drafting a similar bill which would legally recognise self-driving cars. There are however some caveats courtesy of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
One of these is the legal requirement that the vehicle have, at all times, a full-licensed driver behind the wheel to take over if something goes wrong.
The second of them answers one of the most commonly-postured questions surrounding self-driving cars which is: who takes the responsibility?
According to the DMV the driver behind the wheel will still be held responsible for any accident that takes place.
The DMV also insists that any owner of a self-driving car will need to undergo special training and that the car manufacturer will need to monitor the vehicle at all times.