The Huffington Post recently reported that Google is one step closer to bringing the driverless car to the market. Google’s test models can successfully navigate around pedestrians and bicyclists. Of course, it will still be some time before the cars reach the market, as regulation, insurance, and ethical issues need to be considered. A successful road traffic accident claim can result in thousands of dollars changing hands, and Google will want to avoid any controversy as they attempt to place the first driverless car on the market.
For instance, if the driverless car is moving down a single-lane highway on the edge of a cliff and a child jumps in front of the car, what should the driverless car do? Should it hit the kid or send you, the passenger, over the edge of the cliff to your certain death? These freshman level ethics questions may seem silly and unlikely in the abstract, but given the inherent dangers of driving on the road and the split-second decisions faced by drivers on a regular basis, questions like this certainly need to be asked. Furthermore, if the driverless car hits a pedestrian or other vehicle, who is at fault? The passenger of the vehicle or the autonomous machine in control of Google’s driverless car? Google has declined to comment on the situation.
The Wall Street Journal recently quoted a personal injury lawyer in New York who made the claim that Google’s driverless car will lead to fewer accidents, because many accidents on the road today are due to human error. Fewer accidents translates into fewer injuries, meaning fewer personal injury lawsuits.
Yet, it seems hardly likely that Google’s driverless car will eliminate accidents altogether. And the question remains: who is at fault when someone gets injured in a car accident involving a driverless vehicle? Will victims need to sue the company for a defective product? Google wants to partner with automotive companies, allowing them to use the technology. With so many levels of mediation between the technology and the companies using it, the people in the vehicle, and the machine making the “decisions,” the question of fault is likely to be a complicated one.
The Wall Street Journal wrote that many government regulators and insurance companies are wary to embrace hands-free driving. While some states have approved driverless vehicles for experimental purposes, there don’t seem to be clear plans for making driverless vehicles the norm for everyday road uses.
Currently, Google’s prototypes also require a driver at the wheel ready to take over in the case of an emergency. If this is the case, drivers may still be held responsible for accidents that occur in driverless vehicles. Yet, Google’s goal seems to be to eliminate all interior controls. If Google succeeds, the legal and ethical questions about what happens in the case of an accident stand to be very interesting indeed.
While the Law Office of Martin T. Montilino understands that Google’s automated vehicles are years away from market, we understand that personal injury law will likely evolve to accommodate changing circumstances and technologies. When you need a personal injury lawyer on the cutting-edge of personal injury law, you need the Law Office of Martin T. Montilino.