Artificial Intelligence Takes the Wheel, Becomes Legal Driver

Photo by Becky Stern

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) approved a request by Google to define the artificial intelligence self-driving system as the official driver in its proposed self-driving car design. No human driver will be required and no human occupant will be considered a driver.

This is far from the final step in making fully autonomous cars commercially available, but it is a significant move in that direction. At the same time, it raises very serious questions about liability in the event of an accident.

Preventing Human Intervention

Google’s existing self-driving cars are required to have a human driver on-board and they have controls, such as a steering wheel and pedals, that allow the human driver to take over when needed.

In its February 4, 2016 letter, the NHTSA says that Google wants to eliminate the ability of human occupants to override the decisions of the cars’ self-driving system by removing controls and other interfaces. The company says that the cars will consistently make the best decisions and that human intervention would undermine safety.

While human error may currently be the most common contributing factor in auto accidents, the idea of being completely at the mercy of a computer program is a rather terrifying prospect.

Because, in truth, it takes the potential for error out of the hands of individual human drivers who are assessing and responding to the situation in real time, into the hands of teams of humans who are designing and implementing a complex system of software, sensors, and other components. All of which have the potential to be defective and based on parameters which may not live up to real-life conditions.

On the other hand, fully autonomous cars could eliminate hazards such as distracted, drunk or drowsy drivers. At the same time, it would free people up to text with impunity, have a few drinks without having to call a cab, and even make a solo trip across country without having to stop and sleep. That’s a trade-off many drivers may be more than willing to make.

If you have been injured by a negligent driver or defective vehicle, please contact to be connected with an experienced accident attorney in your area.

Avatar About Sandra Dalton

With a background as a paralegal, focusing on criminal defense and civil rights, Sandra Dalton launched her freelance writing career in 2000 with a weekly column on Freedom for Suite 101 and pro bono projects for individuals and organizations supporting causes close to her heart. One of her first projects was for the Police Compliant Center writing about police misconduct. Sandra’s legal writing quickly expanded to include personal injury, animal welfare, criminal defense, disability discrimination, family law and much more.