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Self-driving cars inch closer to nationwide acceptance

Legislators in New York and many other states have been urged by technology companies to enact legislation that would allow autonomous vehicles to travel on public roads. California and Nevada have already passed such laws, and government regulators said in a Feb. 4 letter to Google that the artificial intelligence technology used in that company's self-driving cars could be viewed as the driver under federal rules and regulations.

The details of the letter sent to Google by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration became public when the agency posted its contents on its website. The letter dealt with the regulatory challenges faced by autonomous vehicle makers and the difficulties government regulators must contend with when dealing with artificial intelligence. Many observers feel that federal recognition of autonomous vehicles will likely clear the path for regulatory acceptance nationwide.

The NHTSA told Google that future traffic laws and vehicle regulations could be designed to apply equally to conventional and self-driving vehicles, but the agency also pointed out that it would take some time to modify existing laws. The success of autonomous vehicles will depend greatly on their cost, and manufacturers are concerned that many federally-mandated safety features, such as a foot-operated braking system, are not necessary or even advisable on self-driving cars.

The interest in autonomous technology may be partially explained by government crash data indicating that the vast majority of car accidents involve some sort of human factors. Reckless behavior by drunk or distracted drivers causes thousands of accidents every year, and those who are injured as a result may want to have the assistance of an attorney in pursuing damages through a personal injury lawsuit naming the at-fault motorist as a defendant.

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