• Ronald Wittmeyer
  • November 21, 2013

The technology is real and closer to being mainstream then you may think, self-driving vehicles are coming to the market. Many figured that someday cars that drove themselves would arrive, just not this soon. Hype surrounding the 2014 Mercedes Benz S550, which has a host of stereoscopic cameras, radar sensors and ultrasonic devices, has sparked talks of the future. For a brief period, this vehicle can drive itself. There are about 16,000 actions, previously left to the driver, which the S550 can now perform autonomously.But, this car is far from the only one being equipped with this technology, which raises the question, are a few more minutes of comfort during our drives worth opening the Pandora’s Box of legal concerns that come with cars governing themselves, especially in a car accident scenario? What happens in driverless crashes?

Nissan also announced in August of this year that they would sell a self-driven car by the year 2020. Even General Motors Co. has disclosed its work on a “super cruise” system which allows a vehicle to operate itself at freeway speeds. This is the technology of the future that proponents argue could reduce accidents, congestion and fuel consumption. With driverless cars, the age or state of mind of the driver would not matter.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will soon begin an autonomous driving study to test 3000 cars with self-communicating equipment. Officials have expressed support for innovation that addresses distracted driving to hopefully reduce car accidents in heavy traffic. However, some questions still remain. For example, who is liable in a driverless crashes, and are drivers exempt from talking and texting laws if they aren’t really driving the car?

The law is currently working to try to keep up with this cutting-edge technology. Nevada has become the first state to pass a law making driverless cars legal. Bills have also been introduced in California, Hawaii, Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma. Even with the introduction of these bills, exemption and liability questions in driverless crashes have still not been addressed. We can only expect that these decisions will come with time.

Currently, automakers that are bringing this technology to the market emphasize that the driver is still in control and can override the system at anytime. However as automation advances so does autonomy. Over the next couple of years it will be interesting to see if the state lawmakers embrace this technology or side with the known practice of human drivers.

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