In February 2017, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report discussing autonomous vehicle technology and recommendations for what legislators and law enforcement can do to help prepare the public for the inevitable commercial availability of driver-less vehicles.
The report, “Autonomous Vehicles Meet Human Drivers: Traffic Safety Issues for States,” found that, while autonomous vehicles offer numerous benefits,
the majority of Americans are skeptical of their safety.
What Are Autonomous Vehicles?
Autonomous vehicles are those capable of performing—in part or in full—the functions of a human driver. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognize five levels of autonomous vehicles.
- Level One vehicles have driver assistance features, such as cruise control and electronic stability control.
- Level Two and Level Three vehicles offer occasional and limited self-driving features that allow a human driver to disengage or take control, depending on the situation.
- Level Four and Five autonomous vehicles provide full self-driving in certain and all conditions, respectively.
Currently, autonomous vehicles are being tested all across the country by companies such as Tesla, Google, Uber, and others. Industry experts expect Level Three to Level Five autonomous vehicles to become commercially available within five years.
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Safety Implications of Mixing Autonomous and Driver-Operated Vehicles
With the majority of motor vehicle accidents caused by driver error, autonomous vehicles offer huge safety benefits over traditional human-piloted vehicles. However, these benefits are most pronounced when fully autonomous vehicles are the only ones on the road, which isn’t expected to happen for decades, if ever.
Autonomous and driver-operated vehicles will have to share the road, at least for the foreseeable future. This raises a number of significant safety questions. For example, will autonomous vehicles always obey the posted speed limit, and how would this affect human drivers and the flow of traffic? If an animal was in the roadway, how would the autonomous vehicle prioritize the safety of its passengers—would the car hit the animal or would it swerve? These are just a couple of the questions manufacturers and highway safety advocates hope to see answered through exhaustive testing of these vehicles.
Autonomous Vehicles Raise Issues for Law Enforcement
Although autonomous vehicles offer safety benefits, their presence on the road raises a number of issues for law enforcement, including questions of whether these vehicles might pose any risk to officers, how officers will be able to identify a vehicle’s level of autonomous technology, and what enforcement procedures for these vehicles should be. In the coming years, law enforcement is expected to develop guidelines for how to deal with drug trafficking or potential terrorism threats involving autonomous vehicles, as well as human drivers’ frustration at having to share the road.
Driver-less vehicles also raise questions in personal injury cases. For example, if an autonomous vehicle causes an accident, what entity is liable: the manufacturer, the company that provided the self-driving software, or a combination of individuals and entities?
The GHSA recommends that states develop campaigns to educate the public on the benefits and risks of autonomous vehicles; wait for model laws and work closely with law enforcement when developing and enacting legislation regarding driver-less vehicles; and carefully record autonomous vehicle information in registration, driver licensing, and crash information databases.
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Were You Injured in an Accident?
Autonomous vehicles have the potential to make America’s roadways much safer. However, all the advanced technology in the world can’t turn back the clock for people who’ve already been injured in a serious accident. If you or someone you love was hurt in a crash caused by another person’s negligence, you may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit to seek compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. Contact Sevenish Law Firm today to set up an appointment for your free consultation by calling us toll free at 800-278-9200.