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The Wheel Thing: Self-driving cars and the law

Google says it's logged more than a million miles testing its prototypes for a self-driving car
Google says it's logged more than a million miles testing its prototypes for a self-driving car

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration, or NHTSA, held a meeting yesterday in Silicon Valley, and invited representatives from most of the stakeholders in the development of self-driving cars. Auto companies were there, including Ford, GM and Toyota. Tech firms like Google. And officials from disability advocate groups attended, along with consumer watch dogs.

The meeting was held to discuss how self-driving cars should be regulated. It also marked the debut of a new, and powerful alliance of interests in that question. They include Ford, Google, Volvo, Uber and Lyft, plus the former NHTSA chief, David Strickland.

This group wants clarity around laws and regulations regarding self-driving cars, and they are adamantly opposed to regulations proposed by California's DMV that would require such cars to always be occupied by a licensed, human driver and be equipped with steering wheels and brake pedals.

NHTSA's position, so far, has been more friendly to the developers of autonomous cars. The agency has indicated it might consider the car's artificial intelligence system to be considered the official 'driver.'

Everyone agrees that the worst possible outcome would be a patchwork of conflicting state and federal regulations. The pro-autonomous forces argue that self-driving cars will soon be a reality. They believe they will result in vast improvements in traffic safety and a resulting dramatic decline in fatalities and injuries. They also point to the benefits autonomous cars will bring to specific groups, such as people with disabilities and the elderly.

Regulators continue to try to hammer out some sort of of code of conduct for these self-driving cars. The key question now - can they up with rules before the tech and car companies have autonomous vehicles ready to sell to the public?