Brad Pistotnik Law
Abogado El Toro

The Promise and Perils of Driverless Cars

How do auto lawyers handle accidents that involve driverless cars? Technology is evolving at a rapid pace and driverless cars are no longer fantasies of science fiction. These vehicles are in advanced stages of testing. It won't be long before they share the roads with human drivers. While driverless vehicles promise increased safety and the removal of human error from the accident equation, they open up the potential for many other problems and potential liabilities.

Nationwide, the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey shows that 94% of automobile accidents are due to human error. Engineers state that removing humans from the equation will significantly reduce this percentage as autonomous cars could apply automatic braking and sense a collision before it can happen. While this may potentially reduce accidents caused by driver negligence, auto lawyers, and those injured in automobile accidents are well aware that no system is flawless and product liability lawsuits could arise as defects appear, systems fail, and motorists are killed or injured.

In the 21st century, it has become clear that even the strongest security measures offer no guarantee of safety. Computers on autonomous vehicles can be hacked into by individuals equipped with knowledge and tools required to defeat firewalls and other security measures. In 2015, this was demonstrated when security flaws in Jeep's were exploited by "white hat" hackers who were able to kill the vehicle's engine while operating. This shut down critical systems that are required for speed, steering, and control functions. The demonstration showed that a hacker with ill intentions could easily put drivers and their passengers at serious risk of injury or death.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and auto lawyers are closely monitoring the development of what are labeled as "Highly Automated Vehicles" (HAV's). As of 2016, the NHTSA has issued basic guidelines for their development. These guidelines require states to determine their own individual rules for HAV's regarding liability for drivers, passengers, and manufacturers using the Model State Policy as a guideline. To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation regarding HAV's while three others have enacted HAV provisions by executive order. These laws cover the recommendations made by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) issued in conjunction with the US Department of Transportation regarding the five levels of automation that range from zero autonomous control to full control where the automated system performs all driving-related functions.

Many auto lawyers, including Brad Pistotnik, are watching the development and manufacture or autonomous vehicle technology. It will certainly impact drivers in Topeka, Lawrence, Salina, Kansas City, and elsewhere in Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois, and Oklahoma. While technology is making vehicles safer and better protecting motorists when collisions occur, these technologies could expose drivers and passengers to even greater risks down the road.

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