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NHTSA says software is driver in self-driving car

The timeline for seeing self-driving cars on the highways may have shortened for people in Michigan and throughout the country based on a decision by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that federal law can consider the software the driver. The NHTSA posted a letter on its website on Feb. 4 that reported that decision as well as announcing the agency's willingness to work with developers to rewrite or even waive safety regulations that are holding up deployment of the cars.

In order to waive regulations, the NHTSA told Google, the recipient of the letter, that it would need to review documentation. Furthermore, safety regulations requiring steering wheels and brakes in a car are among those that will need review. California has proposed requiring cars to have licensed drivers and a steering wheel, but Google has said permitting human drivers to take over from the autonomous vehicles could raise safety issues.

Declaring the software to be the driver does clarify that driver notification of issues like low tire pressure will be communicated to the software just as it is to a human driver in conventional cars. The NHTSA also said that it would work on writing regulations for self-driving cars over the next few months.

Self-driving cars should make roads safer according to experts, because many accidents are caused by human errors including miscalculating distances, driving and texting, driving while distracted and other mistakes. Even a small mistake by a driver such as glancing at a text message can result in a serious accident resulting in catastrophic injuries to others in the car or in other vehicles. Negotiating with the insurance company of the driver responsible may be frustrating for injured victims if they are offered too little compensation, and an attorney may be of assistance in seeking the appropriate amount of damages through the filing of a personal injury lawsuit.

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