The Roadblocks for Autonomous Cars
The idea of self-driving cars is exciting, so why hasn't it happened yet? Find out where the technology is currently at and the legal ramifications.
We’ve all seen the Sci-Fi movies and dreamt about the days of being able to stretch out in a reclined chair, wine glass in hand, newspaper in the other – all whilst a fully automated hover car gets you from A to B without any of your own input.
You’ll be excited then to hear that those days are quickly approaching (except for the hover car part – unfortunately). With recent unveilings at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the Detroit Motor Show, the technology required for autonomous cars seems to be seriously on track.
Where is the Technology at Right Now?
Currently, cars can automatically control acceleration, control braking, read road and speed signs, change lanes as well as detecting humans walking onto roads and consequently brake if necessary.
However, the technology is not 100% perfect at this moment and manufacturers still need to iron out some kinks to deal with various weather conditions such as snow and rain – Ford is one car company currently conducting such trials.
Another interesting advancement is Mercedes Benz’s technology development of predictive data which learns driving habits in which to replicate. Similarly, Toyota has developed technology to learn driving history of the car and to suggest or predict destinations for the user.
The Legal Roadblocks
Despite these technological advances, there are many legal questions that need to be resolved before you can make the upgrade. Two such questions surround who is responsible in the case of an accident, and also how do we adequately regulate autonomous vehicles to keep our roads safe.
The whole idea behind the autonomous driving technology is that the driver shifts their control to the car’s computers. This means that if there were an accident it would most likely be due to an error on the computer’s part. So the legal question stands: who should be liable for the accident and how will insurance companies with their compulsory third party insurance adapt to this?
The manufacturers liable?
Following on from this, if accidents are caused by computers could that potentially open the floodgates for manufacturers to be liable? If this were to happen, even the smallest glitch in such systemic technology could cause widespread accidents which would not only be an absolute catastrophe, but could easily bankrupt whole car manufacturers.
International standards across all cars
Another roadblock for the technology is that all cars with the technology must have some international regulation, in the same way that cars now require basic foundations such as universal airbag, seatbelt and crumple zones. The technology must be harmonised across international car standards under the umbrella of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
Similarly, the technology must be compatible and tested amongst all the different car manufacturers with the technology for when all the cars begin interacting on the roads.
Laws across multiple jurisdictions
As people commute between different states or even countries (as is common in places like Europe), the above legal issues will need to be in place to cover all jurisdictions for all laws.
Where do we go from here?
The technology underpinning autonomous cars may be developing at rapid speeds, but there still remains a lot of unanswered legal questions before they can start to hit our roads. However with CES and the Detroit Motor Show, 2016 definitely looks promising for these necessary developments to materialise. Those Sci-Fi dreams of yours might be closer than you would’ve thought – watch this space, we will keep you updated as more developments arise.
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Anthony is a Paralegal at Lawpath. Pursuing his interest for Insolvency and Commercial Law, he is currently completing his third year of a combined degree in a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Commerce at University of New South Wales.