The great driverless driving experiment is in full force now and is moving from experimental to reality. Driverless cars, or what the industry calls, autonomous cars, are headed to American roadways. There is no stopping this now. The prediction, as reported in TechCrunch, is that cars without drivers will be the norm by around 2020. This will no doubt begin to have a major impact on the way we commute and travel. Without drivers, not only will the consumer’s driving experience change, but the transportation industry will also be transformed. As dire predictions continue about loss of jobs due to technological advances, driverless vehicles will mean a loss of jobs. It will also bring other challenges.
Recently, the Department of Transportation and the National Economic Council issued a preliminary plan for regulating safety of these vehicles. The federal plans are meant to begin to set standards for regulating the technology of driverless cars. In addition to the need for companies developing this technology to share information with the DOT, the federal agency is putting safety as a priority.
Safety is top of mind for all of us … advocates of autonomous vehicles argue that the roads will be safer because human error is the cause of most vehicle crashes. It stands to reason that eliminating human error will make driving safer. But how much safer and the what ifs are a concern because we have seen major unprecedented recalls in the car manufacturing and related industries in the recent past. From failing airbags to ignition switches, the list is long and painful for those whose loved ones have lost their lives or been injured by technology that was supposed to keep them safer.
Several companies have these vehicles in the testing phase. Google and Tesla are most notable of these. The New York Times and the LA Times report that Uber is currently using Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as the testing ground for its use of driverless cars. Although there is someone in the driver’s seat, Uber driverless is picking up passengers and taking them to their destinations, thus far without incident.
Whether you are enthusiastic or fearful about this development, the fact is there are still many unanswered questions about safety. What happens if there is a crash? What happens if the crash is caused by a car with no driver? Who is responsible? The car manufacturers will be vulnerable to litigation in case of an accident involving serious injury or death. Will the owners of these vehicles be primarily or secondarily responsible for this type of consequence. How safe are these cars and how safe must they have to be before they are all around us?
In our next post, Scholle Law will take a look at the specific issues raised by the DOT about safety and crash reporting for driverless cars. We want all Georgians to be informed about this technology and the challenges it poses to us all. And we invite you to contact us at any time if you have been injured in a vehicle crash or other accident for our legal guidance.