It seems like everyone is excited about the advent of automated, computer controlled cars with "auto-pilot" features. The theory is that these cars will reduce accidents caused by human error. In particular, drunk driving accidents are theoretically going to disappear from our roads, because anyone who has had too much to drink can simply set the car on auto-pilot and avoid the risks associated with drunk driving.
As the future of driving looks to be increasingly technological and automated, some serious legal questions arise. The primary question, of course, is: Who is responsible for accidents involving automated cars?
Who Is Responsible for Auto Accidents Involving Automated Cars?
An interesting recent article in the Washington Post looks at a couple of recent accidents involving automated cars. In both instances, the driver was drunk, and both times the driver claimed that the car was on autopilot at the time of the accident.
Should a drunk driver be able to avoid responsibility for an accident if the car was operating on autopilot at the time of the accident?
In fairness, the companies putting out automated cars are clear that they are not to be used inattentively. They are clear that the driver is ultimately responsible for the vehicle and should be aware at all times. We will see how the courts rule, but it seems likely that the liability will fall squarely on the shoulders of the driver, not the automated car.
Are Automated Cars Really as Safe as They Should Be?
It is possible that automated cars are being released to the public before all the kinks are worked out to make them as safe as they need to be. The police will investigate to determine whether the cars involved in the accidents were indeed being operated on autopilot. If so, it says something about the technology if an automated car cannot avoid hitting another car on its own.
Releasing this type of technology too early only increases the risk for everyone on the road.