Car accidents have remained a leading cause of death in the US since the invention of the motorized vehicle. According to the Traffic Safety Facts Research note, today, about 100 people are killed, and nearly 65,000 are injured each day in traffic accidents. Driving is among the most dangerous things that we do. And with 94 percent of accidents caused by human error, the idea of self-driving cars is turning heads.
Self-operated vehicles are no new concept. Engineers have been pondering the possibility since the ’20s. But only in recent years have they been given serious consideration. And as consumers, we’ve had to face the question of whether or not we’re okay with their reality.
Computer-operated vehicles have an impressive track record- far better than that of human-controlled cars. There have been five US fatalities since 2013 when automated cars took to public streets. Four of these took place in semi-automated vehicles meaning that the driver within the car was able to take control at any time, and the vehicle’s system prompted them to do so. The fifth accident was that which took place in Tempe, Arizona, in 2017. And it has raised some serious questions for our potential future with autonomous vehicles.
49-year-old, Elain Herzberg was struck and killed by a fully-automated, self-driving Uber vehicle. This marked the first time that a completely autonomous car killed a human. However, an initial investigation conducted by the Tempe police found that the pedestrian may have been at fault. It was reported that she stepped off a median and into the path of the vehicle. An additional investigation was conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board, though they determined the circumstances unclear and did not make a definitive conclusion.
This particular situation and the challenge of discerning fault is not the only unclear aspect of this case. It also arises the complex questions and legal implications of self-driving cars. While fully and partially self-driving cars could dramatically reduce the number of accidents, especially those involving drunk driving and speeding, their controversy remains.
The problem with automated vehicles is that their integration into society will cause a clash between our existing standards and practices, and their new social and legal implications. We’ve seen this already with the Tempe crash. It arises questions that address fault and liability. And perhaps, vehicular negligence could become a thing of the past with product liability taking its place.
While there are several legal, cultural, and economic questions surrounding self-operated cars, the prominence of automated vehicles continues to grow. And as they take to the streets, we at Raynes and Erickson will be prepared to approach their unique legal issues.