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How Self-Driving Automobiles Will Impact Car Accident Laws

Posted: June 20, 2018 at 9:28 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Several months ago, BMW announced that by the year 2020, they would have a self-driving car ready for the global market. What that means for the US public is huge. Autonomous vehicles will permanently change the way we commute, but as self-driving cars get closer to becoming an everyday reality, it also brings up many important questions and concerns.

This is especially true when it comes to accident attorney professionals and the legalities of driving an automobile. The rules of the road are straightforward. If you get caught speeding, if you cause an accident, or if you drink and drive, the responsibility is yours in case of an accident. If, however, you have an autonomous car and something happens, who is at fault?

Car accident laws are being severely challenged in the new atmosphere of autonomous cars. Although not fully able to drive themselves just yet, Tesla and other car technologies do have “autopilot” features that allow people to turn over driving decisions to their automobile and to take their eyes off the road, literally. 

Lawmakers are scrambling to create rules, regulations, and definitions of concerning the responsibility of a computer versus a human at the wheel. Ford estimates that within the next five-years, they will have a car that not only drives itself, but that also has no steering wheel or gas pedal. That would take away all responsibility from anyone at the helm of the car. Until then, if you are behind the wheel of a car with steering capability, it is likely that you will be responsible if there’s an accident. This is true even in the event of a rogue car that autonomously speeds up too much for traffic or gets into an accident due to a defective automatic lane adjustment feature. 

Uber, the leading rideshare service, is already announcing that it is going to start its own fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Although the cars are self-driven, there will still be someone in the driver’s seat with a steering wheel, so they can override the autonomous driving feature to prevent an impending accident. Along with the driver, there will also be a passenger whose sole responsibility is to report about what is going on while the car is in transit. Uber isn’t looking to develop their own cars, but down the road, they want to make Uber “self-driving kits” that will get you from A to Z. They hope to use cars that are already being manufactured but alter them to drive themselves.

Many cars already come equipped with “autopilot” features that are supposed to be able to communicate with each other. Some automotive makers, like Audi, are developing the technology to communicate with stop lights. The eventual hope is that there will be no such thing as traffic. A computer will act like a plane command center, giving each car their own “time zone” to pass through an intersection. This will have cars speeding up and slowing down to meet their dedicated timing period, ensuring that traffic flows perfectly smoothly.

Autonomous cars will have a massive effect on transportation, completely overhauling the way that we get from one place to another. They will also alter our social engagements, giving those who can’t drive the opportunity to go anywhere they want. They will even change the legal system, especially when it comes to car accident cases and personal injury law.

It is estimated that as many as 90% of all car accidents are due to human error, but this still leaves 10% that is attributed to other causes. Over 35,000 people died in cars on US roads just last year. Cars that drive themselves could have a huge impact on traffic accident fatality rates by removing human error from the equation. They could also become a time saver in people’s hectic schedules by removing the dangers associated with high speeds. Without fear of a human driver losing control while speeding, cars could go at excessive speeds and still get people to their destination safely. At least, that is the dream.

The potential for self-driving cars to change everything, from economic problems to the number of accidental deaths, is exciting. But from a legal perspective, there is a great deal of complexity in working out all the fine details of regulation and law. It is likely going to take a generation to iron out all the problems and issues related to the autonomous car. It won’t be easy to evaluate whether errors and accidents are technology’s responsibility, the manufacturer’s responsibility, or the driver’s responsibility. Although autonomous car technology is a work in progress, things are about to change, and change quickly, in the lives of everyone who wants to travel.

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