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Software in the driver's seat

Arkansas motorists might wonder whether an autonomous vehicle is safe. A decision by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration appears to be a vote of confidence in this technology, allowing software to be classified as a driver. The proposal from the self-driving car unit of Google was submitted to NHTSA in Nov. 2015, and approval for the classification was provided to the company in Feb. 2016.

The significance of this designation may be a huge impact on the design of driverless vehicles. However, there are also state-specific issues that developers face. California is working toward possible legislation that would require steering wheels to be in place. Additionally, the state is attempting to require that a licensed driver be present during the operation of an autonomous car. Developers are concerned that steering wheels could allow drivers to interfere with software programming, which could create more potential for car accidents.

The idea of being able to reach a destination without doing the actual driving may be a positive selling point for those who commute on a daily basis. Being able to concentrate on other tasks while allowing a vehicle to handle the driving might increase productivity or provide for an individual to rest during the drive. However, there are concerns related to the vulnerabilities of computer-driven vehicles, including the potential for software to be compromised by hackers. Continuing development of autonomous vehicles may include a focus on guarding against such problems.

Driving errors are among the most common causes of car accidents, and responsibility for damages is typically based on such errors. A glitch in a vehicle's systems can also lead to an accident, in which case a manufacturer could be found liable for the damages suffered in an accident involving a given model. Legal assistance could be important in identifying patterns related to problems with a specific vehicle model or manufacturer.

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