I got a new car last week. The technology is amazing. My car is equip with blind spot warning sensors, lane departure prevention, and collision avoidance systems. Within a few days, I put the collision avoidance system to use. While in heavy traffic on the highway, another driver cut in front of me and braked suddenly. A split second before my foot hit the brake, my car braked for me. Think about that for a minute. The car reacted before I could!
Automobile automation is here. The technology on my new car has become standard issue as the industry drives toward the development of fully autonomous vehicles. In fact, just last week, federal regulators released safety guidelines that sent a strong message that while they want companies to follow certain safety measures, they will also give developers the latitude they need to bring autonomous vehicles to the mainstream.
Tesla, the electric car maker, already sells vehicles with a semi-autonomous feature called Autopilot. These cars can steer and brake themselves, but the driver must always be alert and ready to assume the controls of the vehicles. Tesla’s plan for the future is to have fully autonomous vehicles, which studies have shown are ten times safer than human driven vehicles.
But until then, the technology for self-driving cars is still very much in the beta testing phase. In May, a driver in Florida was killed when his Tesla, in the Autopilot mode, crashed into a tractor-trailer. This first-of-its-kind crash raises many questions:
- Who should regulate these vehicles?
- Who is at fault when an autonomous vehicle crashes?
- If the self-driving technology fails, can the manufacturer be held liable? And, to what extent?
- Who bears the burden of compensating those harmed by such crashes?
- How will insurance coverage change for autonomous vehicles?
- How much education, testing and licensing will a driver require for a fully autonomous vehicle?
These are all good questions. Unfortunately, the answers to these questions will be continually evolving along with the technology.
Next up: A deeper look into the issue of insurance coverage and liability with self-driving technology.
Matt Casey is a partner with Casey & Devoti, a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm. Matt handles a variety of personal injury cases, including: automobile, truck and train accidents, medical malpractice, product and premises liability, elder care and sexual abuse, Workers’ Compensation, and wrongful death.