California Considering New Law On Self-Driving Cars

self-driving carI recently saw a fascinating article about self-driving cars. And no, this isn’t some far off technology. The technology is here today and is being used by several auto manufacturers. Even Google is getting into the act. It’s called robotic car technology.

Google has actually put software on cars right now. Their test cars have driven over 300,000 miles without a mishap. The cars have been on freeways, winding roads, parking lots and congested city streets. Google says they have an interest in reducing the number of accidents and fatalities as a result of auto accidents. Google claims that with this technology, drivers won’t be distracted with cell phones, eating lunch while driving etc.

Therefore, Google is sponsoring a bill in the California legislature to allow self-driving cars, and allows the DMV to establish safety standards for these automobiles.

There is a fascinating video showing the car in operation. The “driver” is a man who is legally blind. He “drives” down the road, stopping at stop signs, and even pulling into a drive-through restaurant for a taco. He then takes off eating his taco with both hands as he merrily travels down the road.

As a consumer, I am amazed at this technology. As an Alameda personal injury lawyer, I’m overwhelmed with the legal issues that will be raised by this technology if it evolves and becomes the norm (which I have no doubt it will).

But consider these issues. Suppose the car gets into a crash due to a failure of technology. Who is legally responsible for the property damage and personal injuries caused by such a crash? Will the manufacturer be liable for products liability claims where the product fails to perform as the reasonable consumer would expect?

Under California’s current law, drivers have a non-delegable duty to keep their car in good mechanical condition. Therefore, if your brakes fail you and you get in an accident, you can’t put all the blame on your mechanic. You are still responsible for any personal injury or property damage claims caused by the mechanical failure. Will the non-delegable duty rule apply to technological failures with your self-driving car as well?

What will happen with our insurance rates? Theoretically, insurance rates are based on people’s age, driving records, number of miles driven, and other demographic factors. If the car drives itself, what difference should it make who is driving the car, or where they are driving? If everyone had a “self-driving” car, wouldn’t everyone’s driving habits be considered equal. You would expect that insurance rates would drop dramatically (but don’t hold your breath), and would be the same for everyone.

Can you get a traffic ticket for road violations when you aren’t really driving the car?

As you can see, there are lots of unanswered questions that will be presented by this new technology. In the end, the legislature, and the courts will work out these issues. However, the growing pains should be worth the effort, as the public hopefully will end up with a lot safer driving environment.

Resource:

California Considers Giving Self-Driving Cars Green Light, Quest, August 24, 2012

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