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Self-driving car software qualifies as a driver

New York motorists who are interested in self-driving cars may be interested to learn that U.S. vehicle safety regulators determined that the software behind these autonomous vehicles could be considered to be a driver under federal law. This is a major step for self-driving vehicles as many state safety rules are curbing companies’ ability to complete testing and development.

On Nov. 12, 2015, Google submitted a proposal to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a vehicle that did not need a human driver. The agency has replied that the software that drives the vehicle will be considered the driver. While this will make the process for getting driverless cars out on the road more streamlined, there will still be other legal questions that will come up. For example, there are existing regulations that require certain safety features to be in the vehicle, including the need for a foot-activated braking system.

In Google’s proposal, the company discussed concerns that there is a real danger in putting humans in a position where they may try to override the self-driving software. Before those features can be removed from the Google vehicle, however, the federal regulations would have to be rewritten. This could potentially take months or even years.

It is hoped that driverless vehicles will reduce the number of car accidents that occur on New York roadways. Until these vehicles become available, however, there is still a risk of becoming involved in car accidents caused by human drivers. A person who has been injured in a crash that was caused by another driver may want to discuss with an attorney the feasibility of filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault motorist that would seek compensation for medical expenses and other losses.

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