Google and many vehicle manufacturers have seen the future, and it includes the autonomous, self-driven car. For years, there have been news reports about the possibility of filling the roads with self-driven vehicles, but that reality is coming faster than most people realize. In fact, Google estimates that 10 million self-driven vehicles will be on the road by 2020, which is incidentally the timeframe Google has set on fixing the remaining issues with its vehicles. The search engine giant promises that its vehicles will be much safer than manually controlled vehicles, and that fewer injuries will occur as a result. But will that truly be the case?
The truth is, it’s too early to know for sure. To date, Google has the numbers on its side, as there have only been 14 accidents involving the vehicles, and none of them were the vehicle’s fault, at least according to Google. Still, they haven’t been thoroughly tested in dangerous weather or snowy conditions, and they do not respond well to sudden changes in routing or road conditions. Another concern is that the vehicles are not yet capable of assessing the danger of road debris, and have a tendency to swerve to avoid harmless items like paper.
WHAT WILL THE LAW BE CONCERNING ACCIDENTS WITH AN AUTONOMOUS CAR?
Only four states (California, Nevada, Florida and Michigan) and Washington D.C. have passed laws allowed the usage of self-driven vehicles on public roads. There is a proposed law in Texas that would also open the doors for self-driven vehicles. Industry experts believe that states will expedite the legal process as 2020 nears, as long as Google’s tests continue to produce favorable results.
However, the emergence of self-driven vehicles is meeting heavy resistance from insurance companies, and personal injury lawyers are keeping an eye on any threats to consumer safety. While Google has claimed that no accidents have been caused by the vehicles themselves, the company will obviously spin the accidents that way. There still remains a lot of concern over possible security holes in the vehicles’ software, as no system is hacker-proof, and exploiting the software could cause the vehicles to lose control, or worse. It remains to be seen how Google will calm consumer fears in this area.
Legal experts believe that the autonomous car will lead to a lot of tough decisions regarding accident liability laws. For example, who is at fault if the vehicle is involved in a crash involving a software malfunction? Is it the driver, who failed to engage manual mode in time? Is it Google, or the vehicle manufacturer? The initial belief is that product liability will be relevant should the software malfunction, but if the accident is caused by another driver, then that driver will be considered liable through conventional means. And though these vehicles are advertised as being so safe that the driver can take a nap while on the way to work, lawmakers are unlikely to permit such behavior, as the driver must remain capable of switching to manual mode immediately should the situation call for it.
No technology is foolproof, and self-driven vehicles are unlikely to be the first. Personal injury attorneys will still be able to help people harmed by these vehicles, and provide insight into how to proceed with a claim.