Driverless cars raise legal questions

In 2010, Google announced that it had been conducting research on driverless cars. Using data the company initially collected for Google Maps, the Google Car also integrates cameras, wheel sensors, laser range finders and radar to avoid traffic and other obstacles. Sergey Brin, one of the internet company’s founders, expects the technology to be widely available in five years.

Google is not alone in its pursuit of developing autonomous vehicles. Other car manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Volvo, and Cadillac, have begun testing driverless car systems. However, only three states currently have legislation in place for the testing of driverless cars, Nevada, California, and Florida. That will leave bureaucrats around the nation facing a landslide of legislation when these cars become available to consumers.

“Decades of road-safety legislation will have to be overturned before cars can roam the streets without a qualified and sober driver at the controls, and accidents involving driverless cars are bound to attract some lawsuits.” – The Economist

A 2009 study by the RAND Corporation suggested two possible solutions to address lawsuits resulting from increasingly autonomous vehicles: changing the liability laws to require courts to take the benefits of driverless technology into account when punishing car-makers for any failings; and limiting motorists’ ability to sue in state courts when driverless technology mandated by federal laws fails to prevent an accident.

Aside from liability, lawmakers will also have to address regulatory and privacy issues. The Sacramento Bee reports that Google and Chrysler have argued “that they have a business incentive to make sure their products are safe before putting them out to market, and that the state should allow them to determine themselves when the cars are ready for the public.” It is doubtful that safety advocates would adopt this type of self-regulation.

Privacy groups have also voiced concern over the technology. With a car’s information being broadcast in real time, what will happen to all that data? How long will it be stored? Who will have access to it?

With benefits of safety, improved gas mileage, and increased road capacity, driverless cars may be here sooner than you think. Proper regulation, privacy, and liability legislation should be enacted. As with any new product, it is important to have governmental controls in place to protect the consumer.

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Call 1-800-ELK-OHIO to schedule a free consultation with our Ohio product defect attorneys. You can also contact us online to learn more about your legal rights and options.

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One Reply to “Driverless cars raise legal questions”

  1. I have no doubt in google’s ability to refine their software so the cars can not only get along with human drivers but even mitigate human stupidity, avoiding accidents ordinary drivers — with their limited vision and processing capabilities — could not. The only insurmountable obstacle for Google and its ilk will be counterproductive regulations, especially on the state and local levels. So basically, again, human errors.

    The real exciting part will not be in the near term, when self driving vehicles become commonplace, but in the long term, when they come to dominate the roadways. Then a combination of sophisticated algorithms in each vehicle and communications between vehicles and centralizes control centers will allow cars to work in concert, avoiding traffic shocks, mitigating congestion, optimizing the flow of entire grid systems and thus dramatically improving the flow of people. This can make the infrastructure we already have in place far more efficient and capable of handling many more vehicles per hour, perhaps passing on huge savings of time and money.

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