As Google Begins to Test Self-Driving Cars, Automakers and Lawmakers Alike Question Liability
Self-driving cars – many tech-heads see this as the next step in personal vehicle safety. The cars could lead to less smog and traffic, and can also potentially keep passengers safer in the event of an accident. Many, including Google and now automaker Audi, laud the technology and are looking to develop it further.
Several states are getting on the self-driving car kick as well. In June 2011, Nevada was the first state to pass a law allowing driverless cars to operate in the state, although so far they only allow the vehicles to operate in-state for testing purposes. California came next, then Florida.
Last year, a bill came up through the Arizona legislature to allow for, and create licenses for, self-driving cars. However, the bill died because the lawmakers could not get around one point: who is responsible when a self-driving vehicle gets in a wreck?
Blogger Megan McArdle is skeptical that lawmakers will allow driverless cars on the road, now that the question of liability has turned ugly. She poses a question:
“Imagine a not-implausible situation: you are driving down a brisk road at 30 mph with a car heading towards you in the other lane at approximately the same speed. A large ball rolls out into the street, too close for you to brake. You, the human, knows that the ball is likely to be followed, in seconds, by a small child; you slam on the brakes (perhaps giving yourself whiplash) or swerve, at considerable risk of hitting the other car.
What should a self-driving car do? More to the point, if you hit the kid, or the other car, who gets sued?
The lawyer could go after you, with your piddling $250,000 liability policy and approximately 83 cents worth of equity in your home. Or he could go after the automaker, which has billions in cash, and the ultimate responsibility for whatever decision the car made. What do you think is going to happen?”
She argues that liability will have to, naturally, shift to the shoulders of the vehicles’ manufacturers, because the vehicle, not the human passenger(s), will be responsible for an accident. This shift in liability will make manufacturers more tentative about developing the technology, and lawmakers, responsible for regulating the safety of their constituents, will clamp down on anything seen as uncontrollable.
Google Claims 300,000 Miles of Testing for Self-Driving Vehicles were Accident-Free
As of August 2012, Google, with the help of Toyota and Audi, have tested their self-driving car technology for 300,000 miles. To test the safety and accuracy of the vehicles, their fleet of five cars was accompanied by a dozen drivers with unblemished records in the driver’s seat, and a Google engineer in the passenger seat.
In all the hundreds of thousands of miles of testing, the self-driving cars never caused an accident. However, the cars did get into two accidents over the years – both, says Google, caused by human drivers, not by the self-driving car.
In October 2010, the first accident occurred when the Prius was on a test run in Mountain View, CA. The self-driving car stopped at a stop light and was rear-ended by another vehicle – driven by a human.
The second accident occurred in a similar situation, but in reverse. In August 2011, the now famous Google Prius rear-ended another Prius, again while being tested on Mountain View roads. However, the fender-bender occurred, according to Google’s statement, because the self-driving vehicle was actually being piloted by a human driver.
A Google spokesperson gave Business Insider this quote about the accident: “Safety is our top priority. One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car.”
So, if the cars are supposedly so safe, why are Arizona lawmakers afraid of liability?
Insurance and Liability – Shifting Blame from Individuals to Manufacturers of Self-Driving Cars
According to SearchEngineWatch, a Bellevue, WA insurance company called the vehicles “shockingly safe and efficient”.
“It’s accepted in our world that there will be a shift [in blame],” says Bryant Walker Smith, a legal fellow at Stanford University’s law school and engineering school who studies autonomous-vehicle law, reported by DigitalJournal from Popular Science. “If there’s not a driver, there can’t be driver negligence. The result is a greater share of liability moving to manufacturers.”
Google, reportedly, shares liability concerns with manufacturers, lawmakers, and lawyers. The company has been in talks with major insurance companies to research the impact of shifting liability.
States are addressing the concerns from all parties seriously as well. Florida inserted an amendment into their self-driving car legislation stating that manufacturers would be exempted from liability in the event of an accident caused by modifications to the self-driving car – such as the human driver taking over, as in the accident in 2011.
The Strom Law Firm Understands Auto Accident Law in South Carolina
As self-driving car technology continues to develop, laws and insurance policies will change to adapt to new technologies on the road. However, auto accident law is still a complicated subject. If you are in an accident, life-changing injuries may not show up for days afterward. The other driver may not have proper insurance coverage to handle damage to your vehicle or your person. If reckless intent is shown, then the other driver may face criminal charges.
If you or a loved one has been injured or even killed in an auto accident through no fault of their own, and you think that you are entitled to compensation, please contact the South Carolina accident attorneys at The Strom Law Firm. We offer free, confidential consultations to discuss the facts of your case. 803.252.4800.