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Self-Driving Cars and the Future of Automobile Safety


Recent announcements have grown international attention and speculation about how the development of self-driving vehicle technology may fit into existing legal and regulatory schemes. However, concerns about the legal status of “driver-less vehicles” are not new.

Many laws have been proposed in the past few years, such as having $5 million worth of insurance or posting that same amount as a safety bond. Additionally most of the laws require a licensed driver remain seated and alert at the controls of the car, as well as the vehicle alerting the driver in the event of a system failure so the driver could take over manual operation.

One of the theories of driver-less vehicle technology is that because most automobile accidents are caused by human error, the driver-less vehicle will drastically reduce the number of accidents on the road today. However, many questions remain about where the responsibility will fall dealing with an accident due to unpreventable outcomes of the self-driving technology.

State laws exempt manufacturers from liability only in cases where a vehicle has been modified with driver-less vehicle technology by a third party. There has been speculation that the NHTSA may promulgate federal regulations to govern safety standards for self-driving cars, which could pre-empt states’ attempts to pass their own regulations.

A driver who fails to exercise reasonable care cannot escape liability by relying blindly on technology.  As with any other vehicle technology, such as cruise control, park assist, or even GPS, a driver using self-driving vehicle technology must exercise a level of care that is reasonable under the circumstances.

It is not going to be a straight switch to fully self-driving vehicles. Much of the technology is set up so that drivers can take over when needed. And that may actually be more dangerous than the driver or the vehicle being fully in control.

For decades before human drivers are fully phased out, if that ever happens, we will have a combination of humans and computers controlling vehicles. A looming question is who will be liable for accidents. In cases where drivers still have the option of taking control, we may see driver’s being held responsible, even when a computer failure was the true cause. And when the vehicle obviously failed, we know it’s a case of product liability, but we still have to investigate who is responsible for the defect. (

While the technology remains in its infant stage, all drivers, even drivers of self-driving automobiles will continue to need to respect others on the road.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to an automobile accident, especially when you were not at fault; contact the attorneys at Chhabra & Gibbs, P.A. by going to our website, or calling 601-948-8005. There is no fee to discuss your case.

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