We have heard the rumors about driverless cars for some years now. Each year it seems the excitement around autonomous cars keeps growing. Car enthusiasts and industry executives talk about them as if they are just around the corner.
Driverless Cars Pave Roads into Unexplored Legal Territory
But there are a lot of unanswered legal questions regarding driverless cars. One matter in question regards the lack of consistent road regulations. Before investing millions in driverless vehicles, car makers want clear national road regulations instead of state-by-state standards. Without consistent regulations, some driverless features would need to be turned off when crossing state lines.
Another issue with driverless cars regards human supervision. Most car manufacturers are in the process of developing semi-autonomous cars that require human supervision in extreme weather conditions and in traffic situations that the car might not know how to handle. By encouraging drivers to pay less attention in these semi-autonomous vehicles, new safety hazards are created when the human is too distracted to take over.
Determining Liability Is the Biggest Concern with Driverless Cars
The main problem regarding driverless cars has to do with liability. Should the driver or the manufacturer be liable for damages, injuries or deaths resulting from crashes? Currently there are no standards or regulations in place to answer this question. So far only Volvo, Google, and Mercedes have stated that they would assume full liability for accidents caused by their driverless vehicles. But whether other companies will state the same or if the legislature will impose a responsibility statement has yet to be determined. Dealing with an insurance company could prove to be a lot easier to deal with than a car manufacturer after a crash.
The idea of driverless cars is exciting but, practically speaking, there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved before they become a reality. As federal road regulators are scrambling to keep up with technology so are the courts in regards to responsibility for MVAs. With driverless cars just a few years away, we can expect to see big changes in motor vehicle liability law and traffic regulations.