Ready or not, self-driving cars are coming to a road near you. According to experts who are monitoring the testing process for these vehicles, they could be on the road before the end of this decade. Some autonomous features are already being included in new cars, such as parking assist functions, lane integrity monitoring systems, and automatic braking systems.
With self-driving cars on the horizon, there are questions surrounding liability for accidents involving these vehicles. After all, as technology takes over more functions that are commonly handled by humans, who can be held liable? More importantly, will the current legal system be flexible enough to handle these issues?
Reports by various groups studying this issue suggest that answers to these questions will likely be developed if a few simple guidelines are followed. For example, states should be allowed to resolve legal questions using their own respective laws instead of being pre-empted by federal law. There does not appear that any reasons exist for the federal government to be better at resolving these issues than state courts.
Also, manufacturers of traditional, non-autonomous cars should not be held liable for conversions to autonomous vehicles made by third parties. When it comes to commercial vehicles, such as trucks and buses travelling between states, federal rules may be helpful in establishing uniform expectations.
Indeed, it remains to be seen what issues will come about as self-driving cars are introduced to the public. However, innovation is not without temporary setbacks and defects that must be quickly remedied. Hopefully, the fear of lawsuits and potential litigation does not stifle development of these vehicles.