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How do you feel about driverless vehicles on the road?  It is a question you might have to answer sooner rather than later.  An article in the New York Times highlights some concerns surrounding technology that enables vehicles to be on the road without help from an actual human being.

Manufacturers would be held responsible for defects in driverless cars that lead to injuries.  This falls under product liability law.

But, what happens if a driverless car causes a fatal accident?  Who is at fault?  Who do you sue for damages?

Even though there is no “driver,” the fault may still fall into the “driver’s” lap or the person in the vehicle at the time the driverless car was operating and led to a fatal accident.  There could also be arguments that the blame should be placed on the manufacturer for creating the product that led to the accident.

Another issue that comes into play is the fact that there would essentially be robots on the road.  Are we comfortable with placing our safety into the hands of a lifeless object?  Some may argue that we rely on technology for everything else, so driving is another step towards our technological future.  When we are driving we are in control of the car.  Obviously we can’t be in control of our surroundings and other drivers, but it is the most control we have when we are on the road.  We relinquish that control when we are a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, boat, airplane, or other means of transportation.  Could we perhaps look at driverless cars in the same way?  No, it’s not another human being, but it is something that officials would find to be safe enough to have human interaction.  Hospitals use robotic technology all of the time during surgeries and various procedures.  If we are trusting of robots to perform or assist during surgery, a time when we are at our most vulnerable, should we trust robots to control our vehicles? It is a topic that leaves much room for debate.

Google, Car Manufacturers & Driverless Vehicles

Google has been working on driverless vehicles since 2009 and in May 2014 it tested some out on city streets in Mountain View, California.  The vehicles are tasked with scoping out other vehicles on the road, pedestrians, and cyclists.  Google is still working on driverless vehicles maneuvering into a parking space.  It hopes to make driverless vehicles ready by 2017.

Toyota, Ford and GM are teaming up with the University of Michigan to develop a testing site for driverless vehicles.  The announcement came on May 6, 2014.  Bosch, Xerox and Econolite are also helping the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center’s testing site.  The 32-acre site will be a replica of an urban environment including streetlights, sidewalks, traffic lights and signals.

The site is expected to be completed by the fall of 2014.  Officials hope that with the development of this site, there is a reduction in traffic, crashes, less pollution and energy use.


  1. Gravatar for David A. Freedman
    David A. Freedman

    OK, delay the implementation of driverless cars by a year, but will you personally attend each of the 30,000 funerals that we can expect for that year?

    The technology may not be perfect, but it is already (and has been for two years) better than you or me in charge of 2,000 pounds of screaming metal.

    Every single day that this technology is dealyed is a day of more mass slaughter on the roads. Wake up!

  2. Gravatar for Eric Chaffin

    Thank you for the reply and dialogue. I believe this issue is not about waking up, it is about a fundamental shift in technology. The issue is as with any new technology, it has to be perfected and accepted by society. The idea that the technology has been better than humans for two years, is based on a small test, involving only a couple thousand miles of roadway in a discreet, relatively new area of California, not the millions of miles of roadways in the United States, including areas that are inherently much more difficult to map than the curbs in Palo Alto. The amount of data and information necessary for this project to become fully implemented is simply breat taking. I am sure with Google's acquisition of electric power plants to power data centers, continued data center expansion, Google glass development and the multi-billion dollar entry into the household market with Nest recently, we are going to see the very aggressive Google bring unmaned cars to production faster than any of us expected, but it is still years away as a permanent fixture. The true test of time will win confidence from consumers, especially with younger generations who are more comfortable with technology. And, near and dear to my clients who are injured by others in car accidents, the driverless cars will not get distracted behind the wheel, drive drunk or drive high...they will be the designated driver for lots of folks, which in and of itself will cut down on the accidents.

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