Google's self-driving car project has received a boost after a key U.S. regulator said the computer controlling the vehicle should be legally defined as a "driver" rather than the human.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration laid out its thoughts about the definition of a driver in a letter to Alphabet-owned Google this week.
"NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the SDS (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants," the agency said. "We agree with Google its SDV (self-driving vehicle) will not have a 'driver' in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years."
"If no human occupant of the vehicle can actually drive the vehicle, it is more reasonable to identify the 'driver' as whatever (as opposed to whoever) is doing the driving. In this instance, an item of motor vehicle equipment, the SDS, is actually driving the vehicle."
The ruling is significant for Google because it makes as its self-driving vehicles, which have no steering wheel, one step closer to being roadworthy on a mass scale. NHTSA's ruling now means the car could pass the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards test.