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The human driver: an endangered species?

Sir, madam, meet your driver. Software system, meet your humans.

It has perhaps been a bit easy for many millions of us once enthralled by the prospect of being motored around in our vehicles by some automatic process that will let us, well, sleep, to ultimately grow a bit blasé regarding the whole matter.

After all, the initial hype of a few years ago has certainly worn off somewhat as time has gone by. Developments concerning what once seemed so shocking -- and transfixingly imminent -- have hit the proverbial bump in the road as state and federal safety regulators persistently balk at developers' visions and schemes.

That is, they throw wrenches into the process. California is a primary case in point, with state officials aggressively challenging Google's technology plans and timing aspects. Google and its competitors racing toward the holy grail of fully developed driverless systems have chafed and grown weary.

But things are suddenly changing, driven (no pun intended) by the seeming realization of virtually everyone with an interest in the matter (that's pretty much all of us, right?) that this thing is going to happen.

Here's proof of that, as noted in a recent media article discussing self-driving cars and attendant safety considerations. Reportedly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent Google executives a letter earlier this month indicating that "the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law."

That agency nod spells a huge development, given driverless car designers' complaints that having a human driver in the vehicle and with the constant capability to monitor and override technical systems is massively counterproductive to research/development efforts.

Because, you see, Google and its competitors see onboard human drivers as THE major impediment to a fully realized next-step development in highway travel.

Humans get distracted. They make mistakes. They have an inherent propensity for mucking up systems that are operating as designed without human interference.

In fact, a letter that Google sent to the NHTSA late last year discussed its proposed design for a car that has "no need for a human driver."

Although there is undoubtedly much in the way of detail that remains to be sorted out, safety regulators finally seem to be more firmly on board with the idea the only way to fully develop an autonomous vehicle is to essentially handcuff its human occupants.

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