Self-Driving Cars Raise Safety and Legal Questions

avenue.jpgIn May 2014, Google introduced its first prototype of a self-driving car. The vehicle doesn’t contain a steering wheel, brake, or accelerator petal. Occupants of the car simply enter their destination into a computer and then hit a button to be driven to their destination. The vehicle is directed by multiple sensors and cameras linked to a computer system. According to Google, sensors can detect blind spots and are able to “see” objects up to two football fields away in all directions. The current prototype can reach a maximum speed of 25 mph.

During a media event in 2012, Google co-founder Sergey Brin stated that self-driving cars are safer than traditional cars driven by humans. While testing the prototype, the self-driving car did not get into any accidents. However, when the car was being driven by a human, the driver got into a minor fender bender. Google claims that DWI fatalities and distracted driving accidents will be a thing of the past. Brin even pointed out that people who cannot currently drive, such as some elderly people and people who are blind, will now become mobile due to the new technology. Brin remarked, “Some people have other disabilities, some people are too young, some people are too old, sometimes we’re too intoxicated.”

However, some people have raised questions about Brin’s claims. Commenting on a CNN article about the driverless car, one reader remarked, “Ugg, what if something goes wrong? The driver still needs to be clearheaded to take over.” In addition, the self-driving car has raised legal questions about who would be held liable in the event of an accident. When asked who would get a ticket if the driverless vehicle ran a red light, Brin responded, “Self-driving cars do not run red lights.” While such legal questions still need to be decided, one reader of CNN’s article suggested that the lives saved by self-driving cars might outweigh any injuries or deaths that could result from an equipment malfunction. The reader stated, “I think the benefits of many lives potentially saved will outweigh the few that are killed by computer error.”

Some states such as California, Nevada, and Florida have already passed laws regulating driverless vehicles. California’s autonomous-vehicle bill, signed into law in 2012, allows companies such as Google to test self-driving vehicles on public roads under certain conditions and restrictions. For instance, the vehicles must be occupied by a human passenger. In addition, the law lays out various procedures and requirements to determine when a self-driving car is road-ready. In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it is beginning to research self-driving cars to determine how they should be tested, licensed and regulated. NHTSA administrator David Stickland remarked, “We’re encouraged by the new automated vehicle technologies being developed and implemented today, but want to ensure that motor vehicle safety is considered in the development of these advances.”

Website Resource: Just press go: designing a self-driving vehicle

Self-driving cars now legal in California, CNN, Heather Kelly, October 30, 2012

Contact Information