Autonomous vehicles—commonly referred to as driverless cars—are an ever-growing part of the transportation landscape in the United States. With companies like Google and Tesla reporting that their autonomous vehicles have now safely driven millions of miles on American roads, it now seems inevitable that driverless cars will become a widely accepted means of transportation in the coming decades.
But will autonomous vehicles deliver the safety gains their engineers have promised, or will they simply create new legal questions for auto accident lawyers to navigate in court? Below, Nagle & Associates, PA, experienced auto accident lawyers serving all of North Carolina, explain some of the safety and liability issues surrounding autonomous vehicles.
Will Driverless Cars Prevent Accidents?
The first question many ask is whether driverless cars are even legal to operate on public roads. But because autonomous vehicles are such an unprecedented technology, there are few laws on the books in any state that expressly forbid them. A few states have authorized testing or even fully legalized the use of autonomous cars, and many others, including North Carolina, are considering legislation.
These cars are currently legal, but obvious dangers arise when other drivers interact with these vehicles. Most states and the US Congress are looking at proposed bills to regulate how these vehicles can most safely be integrated into traffic where the vast majority of vehicles remain controlled be people.
Google claims its vehicles have driven over 1.5 million miles with only a handful of accidents. In fact, none of the accidents have been fatal so far, and the majority of them were caused by human drivers in other vehicles. A recent report by consultants from McKinsey & Company has indicated that once widely adopted, autonomous vehicles could potentially reduce automobile accidents by 90%. Certainly it is wonderful to consider how many lives can be saved or improved with the reduction of roadway collisions.
These safety claims leave out some of the attendant ethical dilemmas that those who study autonomous vehicles anticipate, such as how the vehicle’s control system might weigh pedestrian safety versus passenger safety when the two come into conflict. The impressive statistic indicating reduced collision occurrences from McKinsey & Company also refers to any type of accident. It is not yet clear whether there may be an increased incidence of slight collisions, and it is also unclear how driverless vehicles may maneuver in ways that actually increase the occurrence of certain types of collisions.
In a normal collision, car accident lawyers navigate questions of fault in order to determine liability. In other words, whichever driver caused the accident through his or her actions is responsible for the damage that has resulted. But as driverless car accidents begin to occur, how will an auto accident lawyer prove fault, and who will be held liable? Will the owner of the car be considered a passenger? Will the car’s manufacturer be legally responsible for every accident? Also, in cases where a driver shares fault with a driverless vehicle, the law remains unclear as to how financial obligations will be apportioned to ensure that an innocent driver or passenger receives proper reimbursement for medical costs and damages. As driverless cars become increasingly prevalent, new legal precedents will undoubtedly be set for personal injury lawyers to study and put into practice in their efforts to protect the financial rights of accidents. .
For North Carolinians who have been injured in an accident, Nagle & Associates, PA offers trustworthy representation. The firm only handles roadway accident cases, and founding attorney Carl Nagle is a former insurance adjuster and former insurance defense lawyer. Please visit their website or one of their seven offices—in Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Hickory, Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro, or Charlotte—or call (800) 411-1583 to speak with a car accident lawyer today.