If you spend enough time wading through traffic as part of your daily commute, the idea of a driverless world may seem rather far-fetched. Indeed, we’re likely a few decades away from a world of serene roadways packed with well-behaved robot cars shuttling us around town. But automotive industry experts – as well as some big-name outsiders and the federal government – are nearly unanimous in their predictions for a sharp increase in the use of self-driving cars over the next decade. Proponents of automation envision a greener future where self-driving cars operate on specially designed “smart roads” to help eliminate human error and drastically reduce highway fatalities. Last year, more than 35,000 Americans died in car crashes.
However, regulations for this emerging field are lagging behind the engineers’ progress, as is often the case with new technologies. We’ve all been annoyed when our computer crashed at an inopportune time – now try to imagine a worse time than when you’re traveling at 65 MPH. Where does liability fall in the event of two self-driving cars colliding? How about when a self-driving car collides with a driver-operated vehicle? Will our legal system be well-positioned to protect consumers and handle the additional complexity brought on by automated cars? Here’s a few quick facts that every Georgia motorist should know about self-driving vehicles:
1. Automated Cars Are Coming Sooner Than You Think
Don’t believe it? Well, they’re already here. This month, Uber is working with Volvo and engineers at Carnegie Mellon University to randomly test self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Lyft is working with General Motors to roll out a similar program next year, and Google is also in the early stages of throwing its hat in the ride-sharing ring. Tesla – to some legal and editorial consternation – rolled out a “beta” version of its semi-automated autopilot feature earlier this year. The U.S. government has already dedicated $4 billion toward infrastructure improvements to support these private endeavors. The main question for Georgia motorists should be “when” and not “if” when it comes to sharing the road with self-driving cars.
2. The Rules Are Being Written Now
As technical achievements in this field have leaped forward, safety regulations are scrambling to catch-up in the new Wild West of public policy. Only four states – California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada – currently have regulations pertaining to self-driving cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expected to release some guidelines later this year, and lobbyists working for companies like Uber are deeply engrained in the conversation. Adjusting well-established, large-scale traffic routines and rules is no small feat – certainly, the larger cultural implications of such a seismic shift are difficult to predict. But in the meantime, motorists are left with a lot of questions surrounding liability and their rights as a driver in Georgia.
3. Liability May Shift, But The Legal System Will Still Protect You
While they may appear to be behind the eightball, experts in product liability law – already considered one of law’s most flexible/adaptable areas – feel confident that current protections related to negligence, manufacturing/design defects, failure to warn and other product-related failures will suffice while better regulations for the future are drafted. One important, forward-looking distinction has already been made – in the case of self-driving cars, the NHTSA considers the software as the “driver,” not the human occupant. In the near future, driver liability may fall to the wayside as vehicle manufacturers and software engineers assume that mantle. If you or a loved one is in need of further advice related to any sort of traffic collision – caused by humans or robots – call the Patterson Cozzo Law Firm at 770-422-8840.