Autonomous Vehicles: A New Legal Landscape

Autonomous Vehicles: A New Legal Landscape

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during 2016 alone roughly 3.1 million men, women and children in the U.S. were injured in motor vehicle accidents. Tragically, 37,461 lives were lost in traffic-related accidents during this same year.

Many traffic accidents and related fatalities and injuries are the result of dangerous driving behaviors, including drivers who were impaired by alcohol or drugs, or distracted by a cellphone or other stimuli both inside and outside a vehicle. Additionally, many traffic accidents were caused by drivers who failed to obey traffic laws and engaged in dangerous driving behaviors like speeding, running red lights and failing to yield the right of way. If personal injury or damages are involved, one or both parties may need to retain a car accident lawyer to represent their interests.

In the vast majority of motor vehicle accidents, some type of driver error is to blame. While the enaction and enforcement of stricter or additional traffic laws are somewhat effective at curbing dangerous driving behaviors, far too many people still drink and drive, text and drive, and speed.

Seeking a solution to reduce accidents that require the services of a car accident lawyer, federal safety agencies like the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration have discussed taking action to require the use of car to car technology which would essentially enable motor vehicles to communicate and react accordingly to avoid a collision. Taking things a step further, Google and Tesla have recently been in the news for their efforts in developing fully autonomous cars, thereby completely removing drivers and their propensity to make errors from the equation. Statistically, autonomous vehicles are significantly safer than human drivers, with many of the distractions and errors that commonly afflict human drivers (texting, speeding, failing to yield) negated once a computer is in control of the vehicle.

Due to recent tragic (and fatal) incidents involving “driverless” cars—one caused by a self-driven Uber vehicle, and one involving a Tesla Model X—autonomous vehicles are receiving more attention than ever. The legal ramifications of such incidents are significant, with precedent for personal injury suits potentially being set over the resulting litigation.

How will these incidents affect the future of personal injury litigation? To say the least, it will be interesting to see how these cases shake out in court, with typical “at-fault” judgments made significantly more complex due to the involvement of autonomous vehicles. Auto accident lawyers will be watching closely to see how these events affect legal practice, with cases involving autonomous vehicles only set to increase as the technology becomes more widespread.