Self-Driving Cars From a Lawyers Perspective: New Hopes and New Fears

Self-Driving Cars From a Lawyers Perspective: New Hopes and New Fears

The word automobile means “self-mover” when you break it down into its Greek roots.

In some ways, the notion of a driverless vehicle brings the car industry even closer to the actual meaning of the product it has been producing throughout the last century. The shift towards this driverless future has been happening gradually as automakers have introduced various technologies that have slowly converted the drivers responsibilities into automatic features.

Uber to Test Self-Driving Cars in Pittsburgh

The state of Pennsylvania made national news in September of 2016 when it invited Uber to test its self-driving vehicles in the city of Pittsburgh. The major announcement caught most Americans by surprise. Though many had heard of the idea of self-driving cars, few realized how far the technology had already come.

For some, this stunning news was a sign of hope, but for others, the sudden emergence of self-driving cars elicited new fears about the future. As people who see the worst effects of human driving errors on a daily basis, the best accident attorneys in PA share in the general excitement and hope about the potential benefits of self-driving cars.

According to a recent Pew Forum survey, these lawyers are not alone in their optimism. Nearly 50% of Americans are willing to give driverless cars a fair chance. Interestingly enough, that same survey pinpointed a significant divide between rural and city-dwelling Americans on the issue. While fewer than 40% of the former wanted to see what self-driving cars had to offer, more than 50% of the latter did profess an openness to this new automobile technology.

The Potential of Self-Driving Cars for the Elderly

What are some of the reasons that people might embrace the advent of the driverless car? One segment of the population that rarely comes to mind when the topic is new technology perhaps stands to benefit the most from the self-driving automobile: senior citizens.

Advanced age inevitably brings new challenges for drivers, a reality which has already inspired a range of unique features in vehicles designed for older drivers.

For example, AAA has a partnership with the University of Florida Institute for Mobility, Activity, and Participation that focuses on directing senior drivers to SFODs (Smart Features for Older Drivers) that make their driving experiences safer and more comfortable.

These SFODs range from simple features like auto-dimming mirrors and automatic windshield wipers to more advanced amenities such as rear backup cameras and keyless ignitions.

The self-driving vehicle has the potential to become the ultimate SFOD. The various safety and comfort technologies mentioned above are nothing to dismiss lightly, but none of them ensure an aging drivers long-term ability to keep driving his or her vehicle. Certain issues that manifest in old age cannot be addressed by anything other than a self-driving car; for example, severe vision and hearing loss deprive many seniors of the opportunity to continue to operate their traditional automobiles, but a self-driving car could soon provide a solution.

Other Potential Benefits of Self-Driving Cars

Aging drivers have much to gain from new technologies that promise driverless vehicles, but many others also stand to benefit if these automated cars can be perfected. For example, those with disabilities that have prevented them from operating motor vehicles, therefore restricting their mobility and adversely affecting their quality of life, may soon be able to travel in new ways, providing them novel opportunities for employment, convenience, and pleasure.

Self-driving cars may also prove a positive step even for individuals who do not currently face any barriers to operating motor vehicles. Tens of thousands of Americans die in accidents every year, and hundreds of thousands suffer varying levels of injuries on Americas roadways.

These accidents often result from user errors; driverless vehicle designers hope to virtually eliminate these tragic incidents as they continue to perfect their technology.

Finally, the potential transition to self-driving cars may provide Americans increased access to one of the most valuable resources imaginable: time. According to the US Census Bureau, the average worker spends nearly an hour each day traveling to and from work. For those who commute via car, a driverless vehicle offers people an additional hour per day to spend on hobbies, sleep, work, etc.

Reasons to be Cautious About Driverless Cars

Self-driving cars provide many reasons for optimism, but the alluring idea of a giant fleet of perfectly designed driverless vehicles is not merely just around the corner.

Despite significant advances in the technology, driverless cars still have flaws and cannot be expected to successfully avoid all traffic related incidents. For example, Ubers self-driving vehicles that they have been testing in California have come under serious scrutiny.

One lawsuit alleged that one of Ubers driverless cars ran a red light, nearly causing a serious accident as other cars had to slam on their brakes to avoid it. Bicyclists have also raised concerns about the way self-driving Uber vehicles negotiate bike lanes. Recent reports outlined repeated examples of driverless cars attempting to make dangerous turns through bicycle lanes that could prove catastrophic to cyclists.

Furthermore, there has already been at least one death that occurred during an accident between a self-driving car and another vehicle.

A man died when his Tesla Model S tried to make a left turn across a highway, but failed to detect an oncoming trailer. Subsequent investigations found that the man failed to adhere to safety recommendations, but the incident stands for many as a clear warning about the limitations of automated vehicles.

Finally, some people have expressed other reasons behind their lack of enthusiasm for driverless cars. For example, some individuals just enjoy the act of driving their cars and motorcycles. For these lovers of the art of driving, self-driving technologies seem like a waste of resources and a growing threat to their freedom and enjoyment. For others, the thought of ceding their family’s safety to an automated system, no matter how flawless its designers claim it will be, sends chills down their spines.

Self-Driving Cars and Unintended Consequences

The conversations about driverless automobiles tend to focus on the obvious safety implications. If these self-driving cars can eliminate the vast majority of traffic accidents, why would we resist the transition to these novel vehicles? Few would deny the relevance of this question, but it is also important to consider some additional implications that often go unnoticed in the current debates.

First, the advent of driverless cars poses some profound moral questions that do not appear to have easy answers. For example, if a family member is traveling in a driverless vehicle, and the vehicle slides off of an icy road, and the loved one dies, where does the blame rest?

Is it not possible that the person would have been able to avoid death if he or she had been in full control of the vehicle when it started to slide on the ice?


Who is Responsible if The Technology Fails ?

In this fictional scenario, should the driverless car manufacturer be held accountable for the person’s death, or will society recognize it as an unfortunate side effect of an otherwise beneficial technological advance? A second unintended consequence of replacing regular vehicles with driverless vehicles may be a dramatic shortage of organ donations. If driverless cars successfully cut down on the number of fatal accidents in America, one of the most significant sources of healthy organ donations will disappear.

This is certainly not an argument for resisting technologies that prevent fatal accidents; however, it is simply a warning that doing so will have additional effects that must be taken into consideration as technology continues to progress. Finally, a third potential side effect of the transition to driverless cars relates to class concerns. Automated features on cars have always started as a luxury item before slowly trickling down to lower-end vehicles.

The self-driving automobile industry seems to be following a similar path, driven primarily by the reality that producing these technologically advanced vehicles is quite expensive.

The problem, therefore, is that wealthier Americans will enjoy the advanced safety features of self-driving cars long before Americans at the other end of the wealth spectrum can access them. During an era of increasing gaps between the rich and the poor, the self-driving car phenomenon could potentially exacerbate class issues rather than offering a solution for them.

Self-Driving Vehicles from the Perspective of a Car Accident Lawyer

Americans currently find themselves on the brink of a potential transportation revolution that promises to change a significant aspect of daily life. This revolution contains many reasons for legitimate optimism: increased access for marginalized groups, decreased traffic accidents, and the gift of time. As this revolution grows closer, however, it is also a time to consider the potential problems and unintended consequences that new technologies may bring so that we can prepare as best we can.