The driverless car industry has just taken a huge leap towards becoming a mainstay on America’s highways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a letter that states a human does not need to be behind the steering call of a vehicle with driverless technology.
The driverless car statement issued by the NHTSA comes just a few months after a ruling was made by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In December, the California DMV stated that even though a car is driverless, a human needs to be positioned behind the steering wheel. California also stated that not only would a driver’s license be needed, but special training as well would be needed for a person to be inside of a driverless vehicle.
— scott budman (@scottbudman) February 10, 2016
Google has been the company behind the technology for driverless vehicles. When the California ruling was made, Google was not happy. Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, wrote a letter to the NHTSA in order to explain why having a human driver potentially in control of a driverless car would be dangerous. Urmson wanted the NHTSA to define what a driver would be with driverless technology. The letter sent from Urmson to the NHTSA can be found here.
Google’s driverless technology is designed to be safer than a car being controlled by a human. Google stated that by forcing a human to be behind the steering wheel of a driverless car “could be detrimental to safety because the human occupants could attempt to override the [self-driving system’s] decisions.” Google is focused on making their driverless vehicles impossible to control like a standard vehicle. In doing so, the cars are not being designed with a steering wheel or floor pedals. Putting a human behind the steering wheel would be impossible when no steering wheel is installed.
Below is an excerpt From 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.”
It is important to state that the letter issued by the NHTSA is not a law. The letter to Google is a statement in how the NHTSA interprets the law in relation to driverless vehicles. Even though this letter is an interpretation and not a law, having a government agency on your side that focuses on transportation is a huge ace for Google to have up their sleeve.
Driverless cars still have far to travel before humans give up their control of driving over to a computer. A recent poll conducted by Morning Consult found that 43 percent of the people polled believe that driverless cars are not safe. The same poll found that 75 percent of people fear that a computer glitch could turn driverless cars into safety hazards if they are built in a way that makes it impossible for humans to control them.
Humans found themselves in a similar situation when cars were replacing horses. Back then, the people were not sure about the technology involved and why cars were going to be better than horses. Today, people do not fully understand the technology involved in driverless vehicles and by not understanding it, they fear it.
Over time, driverless cars will find their way into the modern world and humans will adapt to them just like they do with any new technology.
Do you think driverless cars are going to be safer than human-controlled cars?
[Photo by Jeff Chiu/AP]