Google’s self-driving cars have been causing a bit of a stir in the world of relevant United States transportation laws. Just about everybody even remotely involved, from U.S. Department of Transportation chief Anthony Foxx to President Barack Obama has weighed in on the issue and, in some cases, literally laid down the law. After being “gravely disappointed” by lawmakers’ stance on the issue of fully autonomous cars in California, Google seems to have decided they’ll tread lightly. They wrote a letter to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration back in November asking about relevant laws and saying that the guidance of applicable lawmakers and representatives is “extremely important” to the continued and future development, as well as testing and deployment, of self-driving cars.
In a letter back to Google on February 4th, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did say they will consider a self-driving car’s AI to qualify as a driver, but refused to give any more ground than that. Google had asked for a number of clearances that, according to authorities, may not fully comply with the extensive safety regulations that need to be in place for something like self-driving cars to become a reality, let alone to meet Google’s vision. Anthony Foxx later added in his two cents, saying that, “…the burden remains on self-driving car manufacturers to prove that their vehicles meet rigorous federal safety standards.” In the letter back in November, self-driving car director Chris Urmson had said that the cars “meet or exceed” standards and “react faster than human-driven cars” and “will not be subject to driver distraction or impairment.”
In their letter, the department outlined the predicament surrounding the rolling out of self-driving cars in a fairly comprehensive fashion. A great number of existing safety standards, such as those requiring steering wheels and foot-activated braking systems, would have to be rewritten before Google could offer a car without them that’s fully autonomous. Center for Auto Safety head Clarence Ditlow recommended an alternative approach, saying that it would be “better to write a stand-alone rule for driverless vehicles.” He noted that this approach would take extra work, but would accommodate self-driving cars without compromising existing safety standards.