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Google's cars now qualify as their own drivers

Testing Google’s driverless car. Justin Sullivan/Getty

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a letter stating that a human driver does not need to be behind the wheel in Google’s driverless cars — and it’s a major win for the tech giant.

In December, Google’s driverless car efforts took a step backward when California’s Department of Motor Vehicles released draft regulations stating that a human driver is necessary behind the wheel of Google’s fully autonomous cars.

Google opposed such potential regulations because having a human driver “could be detrimental to safety because the human occupants could attempt to override the [self-driving system’s] decisions,” the NHTSA noted in the letter to Google about the new ruling.

The tech giant is making cars that are fully autonomous, and as such are not equipped with a steering wheel, throttle pedal, and break pedal.

It was noted at the time that if California’s DMV were to put the draft regulations in effect, Google could conduct testing elsewhere where rules are more lax.

But the NHTSA said Tuesday that a human driver does not need to be behind the wheel in Google’s driverless cars. As written in the NHTSA letter:

We agree with Google its [self-driving system] will not have a driver in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than 100 years … No human occupant of the SDV could meet the definition of driver in Section 571.3 given Google’s described motor vehicle design, even if it were possible for a human occupant to determine the location of Google’s steering control system, and sit immediately behind it, that human occupant would not be capable of actually driving the vehicle as described by Google.

Essentially, there’s no way a human could fulfill the traditional role drivers have filled in the last century in Google’s driverless cars, and as such the car itself should be seen as the driver.

However, it’s important to note that the NHTSA statement is an “interpretation” not a ruling. The NHTSA notes in the letter that even if it currently sees this interpretation as sound, that it “may not adopt a new position that is irreconcilable with or repudiates existing statutory or regulatory provisions.”

The NHTSA notes in the letter that it will “consider initiating ruling” but that Google should seek exemptions in the meantime until a new law is put in place.

This article originally appeared on Tech Insider. Read the original here.

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