It’s another futuristic piece of science fiction that is becoming true: the car that drives itself all on its own, taking people wherever they need to go, with less risk of an accident from human error.
Software controls and “drives” the vehicle, with an array of sensors and equipment that can “see” the street and environment and accommodate it. Relying on light detection and ranging (LiDAR), the vehicles sense their surroundings in motion. While this sounds like an ideal way to prevent death and destruction from car crashes, the science isn’t quite at “level 5 autonomous”, or completely driverless, yet.
Why Go Driverless?
There are some benefits to autonomous vehicles, including:
- Electric vehicles that could greatly reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels
- Taxis, shuttles, and buses that run short passenger routes, such as shuttles in airports and on college and university campuses
- Public transportation that could (theoretically) run itself, reducing urban congestion, pollution, and the number of drivers on the road
- Encourage carpooling that can also reduce the number of drivers and cars in sync with Vision Zero strategies
- Easy and affordable transportation for those who are unable to drive themselves, such as the elderly and disabled (Phoenix’s Waymo Taxi Service is currently being tested)
- Short-run “last mile” package deliveries for freight delivery, such as UPS, USPS and FedEx
- Autonomous big trucks that can drive themselves, relieving the already difficult driver shortage in transportation
Companies like EasyMile manufacture autonomous vehicles and related software, with the goal of them being completely autonomous. In the US, the company operates driverless vehicles in Dallas-Fort Worth airport, students at Texas Southern University, as well as several locations in Salt Lake City, UT.
The University of Michigan’s McCity Driverless Shuttle Project ran for 18 months using two shuttles from manufacturer NAVYA to understand how such a vehicle would work and be accepted in a daily-use atmosphere. Those findings have not yet been published.
While exists the potential for great benefits, there are still considerable risks. But with three-quarters of Americans afraid of self-driving cars, they may never be fully implemented.
Autonomous Car Accidents Can Still Happen
Pedestrian Elaine Herzberg was walking her bicycle across a four-lane road on March 18, 2018, in Tempe, Arizona, when she was struck by an Uber test vehicle. The vehicle, a model based on the Volvo XC90, was not completely driverless, but had a “human safety driver” in the front seat, but had been operating in “autonomous mode” for about 20 minutes when the accident happened.
The driver assistant didn’t intervene fast enough to avoid the accident, as she was streaming video on her phone and not paying attention. The vehicle software didn’t recognize someone jaywalking. Ms. Herzberg died of her injuries after being taken to a local hospital. A year later, her family sued Uber, and the company settled out of court, so there is no court ruling on the matter. Ultimately, it was determined that the fault was shared by the deceased herself, Uber, the driver assistant, and the state of Arizona.
The responsibility for these types of accidents can vary, as the autonomous vehicle is still at the mercy of human error. One study from Cornell University found that “co-drivers” of these intelligent cars put considerable faith in their design and became complacent about their riskier driving habits.
As with any type of vehicular accident, there are a number of possibilities for liability:
- A malfunction of the vehicle, including the software that “drives” it
- Improper design and/or manufacture of the vehicle, such as defective brakes or other essential mechanical system
- Negligence of the human backup driver, especially if not paying attention
- Local and/or state governments who allow the autonomous vehicles on the road without proper oversight, exposing the public to potential harm from experimental vehicles during testing
Because the accidents with autonomous vehicles have all been settled out of court, there isn’t a legal precedent. As vehicles become more autonomous and no longer need drivers, the liability could eventually shift directly to the designers of the technology that drives the vehicles and the manufacturers of the cars. At this point, liability is likely shared between those entities and the human driver.
The Love Law Firm Handles All Types Of Vehicular Accidents
Autonomous cars are just the latest way to be in a car accident. Although they aren’t prominent in Charleston, nationwide testing grounds are improving their operations every day. One day, West Virginia could find itself with driverless cars throughout the state, increasing the possibility of an accident.
Chad Love has been representing West Virginia accident victims for more than 23 years. Our contingency fee arrangements mean that you’ll only owe a fee when we win your case.
Need help after a car accident? Call The Love Law Firm today at (304) 344-5683, or send us a message online.