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Driverless cars raise legal questions

In 2010, Google announced that it had been conducting research on driverless cars. Using data the company initially collected for Google Maps, the Google Car also integrates cameras, wheel sensors, laser range finders and radar to avoid traffic and other obstacles. Sergey Brin, one of the internet company’s founders, expects the technology to be widely available in five years.

Google is not alone in its pursuit of developing autonomous vehicles. Other car manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Volvo, and Cadillac, have begun testing driverless car systems. However, only three states currently have legislation in place for the testing of driverless cars, Nevada, California, and Florida. That will leave bureaucrats around the nation facing a landslide of legislation when these cars become available to consumers.

“Decades of road-safety legislation will have to be overturned before cars can roam the streets without a qualified and sober driver at the controls, and accidents involving driverless cars are bound to attract some lawsuits.” – The Economist

A 2009 study by the RAND Corporation suggested two possible solutions to address lawsuits resulting from increasingly autonomous vehicles: changing the liability laws to require courts to take the benefits of driverless technology into account when punishing car-makers for any failings; and limiting motorists’ ability to sue in state courts when driverless technology mandated by federal laws fails to prevent an accident.

Aside from liability, lawmakers will also have to address regulatory and privacy issues. The Sacramento Bee reports that Google and Chrysler have argued “that they have a business incentive to make sure their products are safe before putting them out to market, and that the state should allow them to determine themselves when the cars are ready for the public.” It is doubtful that safety advocates would adopt this type of self-regulation.

Privacy groups have also voiced concern over the technology. With a car’s information being broadcast in real time, what will happen to all that data? How long will it be stored? Who will have access to it?

With benefits of safety, improved gas mileage, and increased road capacity, driverless cars may be here sooner than you think. Proper regulation, privacy, and liability legislation should be enacted. As with any new product, it is important to have governmental controls in place to protect the consumer.

The product defect lawyers at Elk & Elk have nearly five decades of experience bringing real results to victims of defective product-related injury and their families. “Real results” means payment for medical procedures, follow-up treatments and medication associated with injuries suffered through the use of a defective product. And it means compensation adequate to allow a defective product injury victim to live a high-quality, productive and respectable life following a devastating injury.

Call 1-800-ELK-OHIO to schedule a free consultation with our Ohio product defect attorneys. You can also contact us online to learn more about your legal rights and options.