Skip to main content

Google argues that if self-driving cars can pass safety tests, they should be legal

Google argues that if self-driving cars can pass safety tests, they should be legal

Share this story

Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car project, has sent a letter to US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today with a plan for selling autonomous vehicles that have no steering wheels or pedals, AP reports. The plan appears to be pretty straightforward: Urmson argues that if a self-driving car can pass standardized federal safety tests, they should be road-legal. Urmson adds that regulators could "set conditions that limit use based on safety concerns," AP says, though it's not clear exactly what those conditions or concerns might be.

In recent months, regulators, automakers, and tech companies alike have all expressed interest in accelerating rulemaking that gets out of the way of autonomous cars. Current rules, many of which are decades old, are designed exclusively with human drivers in mind, and getting those rules changed can take many years; just yesterday, NHTSA noted that had car companies not informally agreed to standardizing automatic emergency braking, for example, an official rule would've taken another three years to put in place. In January, Foxx announced that "model" rules would be drafted by mid-year for creating a consistent national policy on self-driving regulation, and he encouraged private companies to participate in the process.

Google — and Urmson in particular — has been one of the most outspoken voices about the benefit of self-driving technology, which some argue could substantially reduce or eliminate driving deaths if rolled out on a broad scale. But the technology has seemed to advance much more quickly than the corresponding regulator frameworks at times, leaving fully autonomous cars — like Google's — in a legally murky spot. Just earlier this week, Urmson participated in a Congressional hearing on self-driving technology, which seemed to impress many of the legislators involved.

Google has not responded to a request for comment.