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US Legal Breakthrough for Google's Self-Driving Car

The acceptance of autonomous driving moved up a gear this week in the US

Google's self-driving car could see its legal definition equal that of a human driver, leading the way for vehicles without steering wheels or pedals to accelerate into the mainstream.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – essentially the equivalent of the Department of Transport in the UK – has recently changed its perspective, commenting:

"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," it said.

"In this instance, an item of motor vehicle equipment, the Self-Driving System, is actually driving the vehicle."

This marks a major shift in thinking as until now, any car without a human driver would not be considered roadworthy.

This guideline could see Google's self-driving pod, which has no typical in-car controls, inching closer to being a regular site on public roads.

With the NHTSA's approval, the car now fits the key criteria required to pass the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards test.

It's the latest regulatory boost for Google after the US government announced in January a $4bn plan to create nationwide regulations for self-driving cars.

US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said the initiative would “provide consistency between states”

By Tracey McBain