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Autonomous cars one step closer to reality

While some New Jersey motorists may prefer a self-driving car that allows humans in the vehicle to take control as desired, Google has expressed concern that designing cars that let humans override the vehicle's decision-making could be a safety problem. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said in a letter on Feb. 4 that the artificial intelligence in these cars that makes those decisions can be considered the driver for legal purposes, and this allows Google and other companies working on autonomous vehicles to move ahead with some aspects of design.

One stumbling block for developers is federal regulations that require the driver to be notified of various problems with the car such as low tire pressure. With the NHTSA's decision, this means that the instruments can notify the software. Other regulations have also slowed development of the vehicles, and the NHTSA has acknowledged that some safety regulations may need to be waived or rewritten. The requirement that cars have a foot braking system is one of those requirements that must be dealt with.

Once the self-driving cars are found to be safe, the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation has said that the federal government may assist in seeing that they are deployed and might seek extended legal authority to do so. Google plans to work with existing automakers in manufacturing the vehicles.

While proponents of the technology say that self-driving cars will make roads safer, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians might be affected in particular since motorists often fail to see them or react in time. A person who is in an accident with a vehicle due to an error by a driver might have serious injuries. The responsible driver's insurance company may not always offer sufficient compensation to cover the injured person's medical expenses, and the injured person may want to consult an attorney about whether the filing of a civil lawsuit would be approperiate.

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