Self-driving cars may not be all they are cracked up to be

Picture this: You are headed to work. You have your coffee, your breakfast, your book to read. You hop in your car, set it to auto-pilot and sit back and relax. Your driverless car will transport you safely to work. It’s not quite science-fiction with flying saucers and hovercrafts–but are driverless cars really the wave of the future? Are they safe enough to “let go of the wheel.”

One company, one death

Tesla, arguably the company at the helm of the driverless car technology, found that maybe driverless cars are not quite ready for prime-time. In June of this year, a Canton, Ohio man lost his life when his driverless car–on auto-pilot–failed to detect an oncoming tractor trailer. The truck plowed into the car and killed the driver.

Tesla has not released information as to whether it was technological or driver error, but the incident raises the question: Can we get too comfortable behind the wheel of a car that supposedly drives itself? Will complacency and a false sense of security lead to more traffic deaths as people literally lose their grip on a machine that can cause life-threatening injuries when not properly operated?

Who is responsible?

It also raises the question of liability. If the scenario were different and the car had hit another car causing that driver’s death, who would be liable? If technology was to blame, can the driver be held responsible? Is there liability on the part of a driver for choosing to use “auto-pilot” rather than fully man the car himself? Are driver-less cars going to come with a “drive at your risk” disclaimer. And if that is the case, are other drivers at risk of being “unseen” to a computer?

New liability laws?

One thing is certain, liability will never be the same again. And, if past history is any reflection, new laws are probably not going to keep up with the new technology, but instead be implemented after the fact–when it is obvious what needs to be legislated. Laws will change though, and liability in a car crash will take on a whole new definition.


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