I was reading a short article from USA Today (.com), wherein an Intel representative was discussing how a new Intel division was being opened, called “In-Vehicle Solutions”. In-Vehicle Solutions was created to assist with the development of automated cars. It made me stop and think about car accidents and who would be responsible in an accident involving two automated (driver-less) vehicles.
Most of the commentators are saying that automated vehicles will advance driving safety, similar to the invention and application of air bags. The statistics don’t lie, driver error is the leading cause of accidents. What happens when you take the driver out of the equation? Are reaction times shorter? It would seem that they should be substantially shorter. What happens when a child runs in the road? Will the vehicle just try to stop or will it drive your vehicle into a light pole to avoid the death of a child? It boggles the mind when thinking about how a computer will react to a ‘real life’ situation. In the next decade we could see the first mass production of driver-less vehicles. With that in mind, who is responsible or who will be liable for accidents caused by automated vehicles.
Will there be black boxes, like on planes, telling investigators the speed of the vehicle, braking information, roll-over information, directional information, steering information, momentum, inertia, and other valuable information? But, how will we know who was responsible? What happens if there is a computer clitch, improperly written code, malfunctioning processors, etc.? Currently, we rely upon the ‘reasonable person standard’ to determine whether an individual is negligent. With driver-less vehicles, the person is out of the equation. It would seem that a new standard or methods would need to be created to determine liability. I’m starting to think that personal injury attorneys will become ‘data crunchers’. With the applicable data in hand, attorneys will argue fault. Fault must be proven in order to determine who or which company is financially responsible for the damages caused by the accident.
Ultimately, if a person’s vehicle malfunctions and causes an accident, that individual or the vehicle’s manufacturer will be held liable. It will be interesting to see how our laws are molded and changed to accommodate this new type of technology. There will be a transition time when the courts will be backlogged with complaints regarding the use, malfunction and injuries caused by these vehicles. We can only hope that the transition is short and in the best interest of our society.
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