Ghost In the Machine

Google. Audi. Mercedes-Benz. Tesla. Apple. Some of the biggest names in the technology and automotive industries are transforming transportation by being at the forefront of driverless-car development. As of 2015, a handful of cities and counties, as well as California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada, have passed laws that allow driverless cars to be publicly tested on their roads. Cars are getting increasingly automated and a world where drivers become passengers may be just around the corner. Although self-driving cars were predicted to be on the road by the year 2020, it’s more likely that they will first be limited to their own lane on highways before they are used by the masses in everyday door-to-door trips. While new technology is exciting, not everyone wants their ride to be controlled by sensors and software. A survey conducted by Insurance.com found that 22.4 percent of people polled would buy a vehicle with fully autonomous capabilities, but 24.5 percent said they would never consider it. When insurance savings rise, so does acceptance.

An 80 percent discount on car insurance saw a boost in the “very likely to buy” rate up to 37.6 percent and a fall in the “never” rate down to 13.7 percent.
Google says its research has shown that while people paid close attention to the self-driving vehicle and the road at first, passengers eventually become indifferent. Odd though it may seem, driverless cars may turn out to actually be safer, since the vast majority of car accidents are the result of human error. Autonomous cars are not susceptible to the very human behaviors of driving while intoxicated or while distracted. A study by nonprofit Eno Center for Transportation predicts that if only 10 percent of cars on the road were self-driving, there would be 211,000 fewer accidents a year, approximately 1,100 fewer fatal injuries, and $22.7 billion in economic savingsThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a system that categorizes cars based on how much automation they have — from zero, “no automation,” to four, “full self-driving automation.” Yet, automation cannot avoid all accidents. Assigning responsibility for a collision involving a driverless or a semi-automatic car is no easy task. One possible applicable area is products liability law, with its theories of recovery based on negligence, design defects, manufacturing defects and breach of warranties. Another possibility is agency law, where the operator of the driverless car is legally considered to be the “agent” of the vehicle. It’s also possible that in an effort to mitigate their liability, car manufacturers will develop automation technology that still requires some sort of human input. Determining who is at fault when a driverless car gets into an accident has the potential to be a legal minefield. If you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the attorneys at the Johnson Law Firm. We are ready to provide you with a free and confidential initial consultation. Contact us by calling 606-437-4488 or through our online form.

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