Who is at fault when no one is driving? And other questions autonomous cars will pose

Perhaps you heard of the car pulled over in Mountain View, CA that was driving itself. Though sitting shotgun was a human being employed by Google, the manufacturer of the vehicle, the police officer soon realized no one was actually driving. The car was pulled over because it was going too slow. Google is currently testing this new technology on public streets, and to be cautious they have capped the speed of the cars at 25 mph. The car pulled over was doing a cool 24 mph in a 35 mph zone and had generated a line of angry drivers behind it. No ticket was issued, but this raised eyebrows and concerns.

Called “autonomous vehicles” these driverless cars are no longer a matter of if, but when. By some estimates, we could see these vehicles on Bellingham roads, based on this article’s forecast of 10 million driverless cars taking to public roads by 2020. As a personal injury lawyer who works with clients hurt by negligent behavior and choices, I’m particularly interested in this change. So many accidents are caused by driver error, and increasingly these crashes are caused because someone decided to use their phone while driving or drive drunk. In the future, insurers may not need to insure individual drivers, but gear policies against mechanical and electronic failure.

Our community is not unlike the rest of the world’s drivers, and we are increasingly drawn to our devices and our entertainment, in or out of the car. The makers of autonomous vehicles have seen this as a giant opportunity and are trying to make us safer.

While this article is a little tongue in cheek about the advantages of living in a society where no one drives yet everyone uses cars, there are some great points about how much safer we will be.

  • Lower rate of accidents. This article cites a study that estimated 90% fewer accidents.
  • Free up time for commuters. You won’t have to drive to work anymore, so instead you could “work from car” or nap or even catch up on reading a good old fashioned book.
  • Less space used for parking. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll be easier to car pool if we can leave it to the machines to schedule everybody and get them on board in a timely manner.

Drawing from information on what the tech and car companies are already doing, it is conceivable that a child born today could be one of the first generations to forego the driver’s ed class altogether. Their children might not ever see a car with a steering wheel. And, we hope, the combustible engine will get swept up in the changes and be replaced by clean, renewable energy. 

But... let's hope it doesn't just become eerily like Wall-E 

 

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