June 26, 2017

Driverless Technology Emerges: Who is to Blame for an Accident?

A car that drives you to work while you read a book or paint your toenails may have once seemed as outlandish as space cars in the old animated sci-fi comedy  “The Jetsons,” but it’s now closer to reality.

Semi-autonomous technologies such as adaptive cruise control, auto parking, brake assist and lane assist can already be found in some of today’s new cars, but Google and several automotive engineers predict that fully autonomous cars will one day take over the road.  A panel of engineers at the 2013 Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit said: “Between 2020 and 2025 there will be driverless cars on the road that will allow their passengers to be as distracted as they want to be.” Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, is even more optimistic, expecting them to be available in five years.

Furthermore, Wired Magazine predicts that you won’t need a driver’s license in 2040 because by that time autonomous cars will account for up to 75 percent of vehicles on the road, according to estimates by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Florida, California and  Nevada have passed laws that allow testers to man the driverless cars. Nevada, the first state to legalize autonomous driving for testing purposes, requires that two people be in the car to intervene if necessary. Florida, the second state,  added a provision that exempts the original manufacturer from liability. The third state, California, requires a licensed driver in the car.

Google has  a video, “Self-Driving Car Test: Steve Mahan,” featuring Mahan, a blind man with no hands on the wheel of an autonomous car driving itself to the Taco Bell drive thru,  then to the laundry mat, and back home to show what the technology can deliver if technology and safety standards can be met. While, normally placing a blind man behind the wheel could be grounds for arrest, according to PC Magazine the search giant said that since a Google representative was seated in the passenger seat in case of an emergency and it was performed on a “carefully designed course” it was legal. The video was released last year to celebrate Google safely completing 200,000 miles of driving. Since then, the Google car has driven over 500,000 miles on public roads,  according to PolitiFact Florida. Of more than 300,000 miles as of Aug. 2012, Brin said: “we’ve done 50,000 miles without safety critical intervention.”

Past research has shown that the majority of traffic crashes are caused by human error. Google touts safety since its cars have not yet officially had an accident where it appeared that it was at fault. An accident was reported in Aug. 2011, but it occurred when a human was manually driving the car, according to the Mountain View Voice.  Another accident was reported in 2010 by the New York Times where a Google car was rear-ended , which usually means the other driver is at fault.  But engineers say the car cannot handle heavy rain and snow-covered streets or a tire or stalled car in the road, a Google official reported in PolitiFact Florida, and skeptics are worried a technological glitch would be disastrous.

Even if the technical and safety issues are ironed out it’s not clear how liability would be affected in the event of an accident if these cars entered the mainstream. Who would the police officer give a ticket to? Who would pay for the injuries? Would the manufacturer be sued for product liability? Or would the potential to help those who otherwise could not drive be nullified by requiring a licensed driver behind the wheel who would be blamed for not reverting to manual drive to avoid impending danger? While we may need to resolve these issues in the future, currently, we still have to contend with issues of human error, such as drunk or distracted driving. If you have been in a car accident due to someone else’s negligence, please contact Vanguard Attorneys to help protect your rights.


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