Driverless Cars – A Thing Of The Future?

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Imagine yourself calling an Uber to take you and your friends to a bar in downtown Providence. The Uber arrives, but no one is driving. You and your friends are then driven around the city of Providence in a driverless Uber. This sounds like a dream, right? Well, in reality, there may be driverless cars sooner than you may expect. Vehicles equipped with automated driving systems (ADS) are currently on roads throughout the United States. For example, Uber has been testing driverless vehicles in Pittsburgh and throughout Arizona, and New York gave General Motors the go ahead to test driverless cars on its streets. Even though this may seem like a fascinating idea to some, others are concerned with the federal and state laws regarding tort liability, insurance regulations, vehicle registration, etc., since all of these laws and regulations were made with human drivers in mind.

Federal and State Laws & Regulations

In 1966, the federal government passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which allows the federal government to have primary control over safety standards for motor vehicles. Subsequently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated certain vehicle design features and enacted rules such as the Federal Motor Vehicle safety Standards (FMVSS). The FMVSS prevents states from imposing regulations that would interfere with these federal mandates. Consequently, some sections of the FMVSS make it difficult, if not impossible, for manufacturers to remove human drivers from the equation. For example, FMVSS 135 requires a “braking system that shall be activated by means of a foot control.” Thus, this rule can only apply to vehicles that are driven by a human driver.

Since the motor vehicle industry is pushing federal lawmakers and regulators, the NHTSA is “considering a rulemaking designed to identify any unnecessary regulatory barriers for cars that operate only through an automated driving system.” Although the federal government is willing to change laws and regulations, it is still guarding its authority over vehicle design, construction, and performance standards.

Subsequently, states will retain primary jurisdiction over driver licensing, vehicle registration, traffic regulation, tort liability, and insurance regulation. One major issue for states is the requirement that all drivers have a license. Consequently, states must either license the entity in control of the ADS or waive the driver’s license requirement for ADS-operated vehicles. As of now, all of the 39 states that have introduced driverless car legislation have pushed to waive the driver’s license requirement in full. In waiving this requirement, states will create a dangerous loophole in criminal statutes and common law regarding liability for collisions.

Some states such as California, Colorado, and Florida have tried to change the law so that the person who “causes” the ADS to “engage” is the “driver” under the statute and is responsible for the criminal behavior or civilly liable for the behavior of the vehicle. The only issue with states taking this approach is that the person who causes the ADS to engage may not have any control over how the ADS drives or maneuvers through the streets.

Therefore, the major concern for driverless vehicles is who will be held liable when an accident occurs and someone is injured as a result of a faulty ADS. Even though car manufacturers are competing to get the first driverless vehicle out on the roads and on the market, there are still many unanswered questions the federal and state governments need to answer.

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At the Bottaro Law Firm, LLC we represent clients every day who suffer personal injuries from the negligence of a third party. Contact our personal injury lawyers today to discuss your potential claim. You can call or text us at 401-777-7777 or fill out a free online form.