Just For Now, Georgia Says “No Go” to Driverless Vehicle Regulation

DriverlessGoogle seems to have a strong hold on much of what we do on line, but will Google take over driving our cars while we happily sit back and chat on the phone, write emails or get our work done as well? Actually this is likely to occur in the future and some states are already adopting regulations relating to these vehicles. But for now, Georgia has said it is too early to create a regulatory scheme for a technology that is so early in its development. Georgians are innovative people, we have some of the best tech institutions and companies in the world here, but some innovations have longer adoption cycles and need to be proven to be safe before we use them. And so it is that the autonomous vehicle that has no driver and does not include the controls we are used to seeing in motor vehicles, will not be seen on our roads or highways any time soon. A Georgia legislative panel has been looking into the wisdom of regulating this technology as other states have done and has published its finding: and that is a “no go” on that aspect of this innovation.

Many readers have seen film clips of these driverless cars. Google has created one that drives around its California campus … with no driver. Presumably, if Google has its way, the technology will be made available to all one day.  Passengers will be riding along without the need to pay attention to the road at all. The final word for now, which may not in fact be the final word is “proceed with caution.” In its report, the Autonomous Vehicle Technology Study Committee determined that the technology is at too early a stage for Georgia to begin regulating it. Instead, our state will wait and see. The report notes that a better approach is to allow the technology to mature and let the regulatory process follow. On the other hand, the report welcomes the developers of this technology to view Georgia as a place to come for a skilled technology work force and would open the doors to having a role in bringing the technology to the market.

The various ways in which driverless cars would likely need to be regulated is somewhat staggering.  The idea of a driverless car is a bit of a brain twister. Just as early in the last century it must have been nearly impossible for people to imagine a horseless carriage, the notion of having driverless cars on the road is just as difficult for us to imagine as well. What areas would need to be regulated? Imagine a driverless car that rear ends another vehicle due to a computer malfunction. If there are injuries, who is responsible for them? Would the owner of the driverless car be held liable for the rear-end collision as is the case in most rear-end accidents? Would the owner be held responsible for a failure to maintain the vehicle or would the manufacturer be held responsible for the computer malfunction?

Of course, this depends on the facts, but one can imagine the many scenarios in which a driverless car could become involved in a crash with those that are driving their vehicles. The concept of makes an improper lane change, crosses a railroad track at the wrong time and thousands of other possibilities come into play.  And how would our legal doctrines apply? For example, Official Code of Georgia Annotated Title 51, chapter 11, section 7 provides a defense to a claim of negligence. It states that when a plaintiff could have avoided injury caused by a defendant’s negligence, he or she is barred from recovery, but that if he or she contributed to that injury in some way, the defendant may still be held accountable unless the plaintiff is more than 50% responsible. Presumably, rhese concepts would be applied to the driverless car, whether the owner, manufacturer or a repair facility is responsible for something that caused the vehicle to malfunction. Many other legal issues would also come into play, such as law enforcement citations for making a driving error and related issues.

Here at Scholle Law, we stay up to date on changes in the law and changes in technology and innovations that have an impact on our legal system. We are here to help those who have been injured in any way by the negligence or intentional conduct of another person or entity, recover their lives and secure their legal rights. Please feel free to contact us at any time for a free consultation with regard to your legal matter.

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