October 25, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/
-- Self-driving cars may be on the horizon for ordinary California drivers -- a dramatic change that could prevent motor vehicle accidents and make exhausting daily commutes more efficient. But before drivers switch to the "passenger" seat, governments and courts will likely need to grapple with legal issues, including liability for car accidents
involving autonomous cars.
Autonomous Cars Are Already In Development
With refinements and advancements in technology, auto experts say that self-driving vehicles could safely navigate California roads within a matter of years. According to a report written by KPMG LLP and the Center for Automotive Research, two types of technologies must converge before autonomous vehicles become widespread. Sensor-based technologies such as the lasers and cameras must be able to work in conjunction with devices that would allow vehicles to communicate seamlessly with each other and with infrastructure.
The convergence may not be far in the future. Auto makers and others are working on both self-driving cars and vehicles with semi-autonomous systems. In fact, autonomous motor vehicles are already on U.S. roads. Most famously, self-driven vehicles in development by California technology giant Google have traveled more than 200,000 miles.
New California Laws Authorize Testing
With autonomous cars on the cusp of feasibility, state lawmakers are preparing new laws to deal with the changes. A new California law authorizes the testing and establishes safety and performance standards for driverless cars. In fact, the Governor even made it a point to ride to Google headquarters in an autonomous vehicle before signing the legislation.
Previously, California law did not prohibit testing of these cars, but it had not specifically allowed or encouraged it. Nevada was one state that had already created laws and regulations for the testing of autonomous cars.
It is likely that such laws are leading the way for a new legal framework when it comes to self-driving cars. However, they do not address a potentially thorny problem: Whose fault is a car accident when no one is driving?
Broader Legal Framework Needed
Beyond simply allowing self-driving cars to be tested, lawmakers and courts must determine who must pay for vehicle crashes when no person is actually driving the vehicle. If a motor vehicle crash happens because a driver made an error or was negligent, the other people involved in the crash can typically recover compensation for their injuries and property damage from the driver.
Neither California case law nor the new statute is currently equipped to determine liability in accidents when no one is driving. This, and other issues will need clarification.
Will Car Manufacturers Be Liable?
In addition to drivers, manufacturers also face issues of liability for autonomous cars. Lawmakers may need to determine when manufacturers can be held responsible for accidents caused by defects or glitches in the systems of self-driving cars.
In general, if someone is injured by a defective product, a manufacturer can be found liable even if the company was not negligent or careless. Currently, products liability cases involving motor vehicles may involve, for example, defective seat belts, improperly designed roofs
that crush occupants in a rollover, problems with airbags, electronic stability controls or tire defects. But with self-driving cars, new technologies, including auto-to-auto communications and advanced sensoring devices, are creating new horizons in electronic motoring that most certainly will create responsibilities on the part of the manufacturers.
Since the manufacturers will be solely responsible for the functioning of a driverless vehicle, and since lives will be at stake, it will be important for autonomous vehicles to not only be free of defects, but to have "fail safe" technology designed in order to protect the public in the event of a failure.
Article provided by The McClellan Law Firm
Visit us at www.mcclellanlaw.com---
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