Most of us that surf the internet, read a newspaper or watch television know that many different technology companies are developing self-driving cars. Companies like Apple, Google, Tesla, Toyota and Uber are some of the technology companies developing and testing self-driving car technology. Google is the pioneer in autonomous driving technology. In 2005, Google established a team of engineers, led by Sebastian Thrun, who developed a robotic vehicle that won a contest sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Sine then, in November of 2015 Toyota announced over the next five years, it would spend $1 billion on research centers related to self-driving car at both MIT and Stanford. Apple, Google, Tesla and Uber have also committed to substantial research initiatives focusing on the testing and developing of autonomous vehicles. BMW, Audi and Daimler recently purchased Nokia’s map business, including intellectual property focused on self-driving cars.
What is an “autonomous” or “self-driving” vehicle?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “autonomous” or “self-driving” vehicles are those in which operation of the vehicle occurs without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration, and braking and are designed so that the driver is not expected to constantly monitor the roadway while operating in self-driving mode.
Are autonomous/self-driving vehicles feasible and part of our future?
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predict that 75% of cars on the roads in the world will be autonomous by 2040. Moreover, a recent KPMG Study foresees self-driving cars hitting showrooms in 2019.
Are they safe?
Google claims their self-driving vehicles have traveled over 700,000 miles accident free. Google believes that self-driving cars can make driving more efficient and safer by eliminating distracted driving and other human error. According to NHTSA, there were 3,331 fatal distraction-affected crashes in 2011, accounting for 10% of all traffic fatalities, compared to 3,267 fatalities involving distracted drivers in 2010.
As the technology of self-driving cars has developed, states have adopted laws to support them. California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington D.C. have already legalized autonomous vehicles for testing purposes.
Self-driving cars are still in the experimental phase and a long way from becoming on the market for consumers to buy. Regardless, as excitement for self-driving cars grows, there are numerous insurance questions that will need to be addressed before such vehicles take the road. For example: What happens if a self-driving car gets into an accident? Who is liable for the damages? Will the human “copilot” be at fault or will the car’s manufacturer? Will the ‘driver’ have to maintain a constant vigil on the road ahead at all times? What are they allowed to do inside the vehicle…can they nap, read a book or text message while the car does all the navigating? Will they even need a driver’s license? Here are some other questions:
Who will regulate self-driving cars?
Historically, states regulate drivers and the federal government regulates vehicles. But what happens when the vehicle is the driver? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that issues such as licensing, driver training, and operation of the vehicles are best left to the states. Indeed, states that have legalized the operation of autonomous vehicles have deferred to their motor vehicle departments to address questions of how to regulate such issues. These departments will face questions such as: Will drivers of autonomous cars need extra training or licensing? How will self-driving cars be registered and inspected?
Who will be responsible for accidents?
When self-driving cars hit the road, a new area of personal injury law will arrive. If a self-driving car causes a collision, who will be sued? The driver or the manufacturer? Or both? What will it mean for a driver of a self-driving car to be negligent? And what standards will manufacturers be held to in terms of safe design? For example: What form will the transition from manual to auto-pilot take? Will it be possible to speed?
Self-driving cars will mark a new age in modern transportation. And as the technology reaches the public, changes to laws and legal standards will be in the headlines.
In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a number of recommendations on the issue, including its plans for research on related safety issues and recommendations for states related to the testing, licensing, and regulation of self-driving vehicles. Getting the technology to make the vehicles is only half the challenge; the other half will be creating a legal, liability and regulatory framework to govern their use on public streets