Self-driving cars also referred to as autonomous vehicles, are one of the most exciting technological breakthroughs of our time. Chances are, you’ve read something on the news about companies like Uber and Google experimenting with driverless cars. While the prospect of a vehicle functioning with no human interaction sounds like a dream come true, there is a long way to go before we see widespread adoption.
So, are self-driving cars the future?
From what we see in the movies and the optimistic takes we hear throughout the tech world, many would assume that self-driving cars are indeed the future of transportation. However, this will not likely become a reality for a while.
As of now, autonomous cars are in the advanced testing stage. Unfortunately, with a product tied so closely to public safety, any incidents that result in injury are thrust directly into the spotlight. Uber’s autonomous prototype made headlines this past May for a fatal collision with a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, and Tesla’s Model X semi-autonomous Autopilot mode did as well when the vehicle slammed into a concrete barrier, killing a 38-year-old software engineer. Any public error in this testing process is going to significantly delay progress, and rightfully so.
According to three separate studies conducted by the Brookings Institution, HNTB, and the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the majority of people are not currently convinced that self-driving cars are entirely safe. Over 60% of respondents claimed they were “not inclined” to ride in autonomous cars, and nearly 70% expressed concerns about sharing the road with them.
Moreover, there is a wide range of legal issues that arise with driverless cars. Most of the current traffic laws and ones related to automobiles were designed for human-controlled vehicles. In order for driverless cars to hit the commercial market, many of these laws will need to be re-examined and adjusted to accommodate the results of autonomous testing.
Are self-driving cars legal?
Yes and no.
Currently, self-driving cars are not legal to everyday civilians. However, some states have legislation in place to regulate the deployment of driverless cars for testing purposes. According to the NCSL, there were only six states to introduce legislation for autonomous vehicles in 2012. Since then, more than 30 states have followed suit and at least 41 (including Washington D.C) have considered it.
So, as of now, the legality of driverless cars is still very much in the infancy stages. There is a great deal of testing and refinement needed before laws permitting passenger and commercial use of this technology are passed.
What are the self-driving car laws across the U.S?
To reiterate, more than 30 states have introduced legislation for self-driving cars. As of recently, 21 have actually passed laws to regulate the deployment and testing of these vehicles. These states include:
Now, it’s important to note that not all pieces of legislation are consistent across these states. For instance, driverless cars require a vehicle operator for testing purposes; however, not all definitions of a “vehicle operator” are the same. In Texas, there must be a “natural person” riding in the vehicle. In California, this can be a remote operator overseeing the vehicle from an outside location.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently published: Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles: 3.0, which builds upon the Department of Transportation’s 2.0: A Vision for Safety. This document is working towards removing the regulatory barriers to utilize innovative safety technology and ushering in safer means of testing autonomous vehicles. Over the next few years, we can expect to see the testing of driverless cars increase and refine itself.
What Other Impacts Will Driverless Cars Have?
Cars are the most common form of transportation in the United States, with over 276 million registered across the country. The reality that humans won’t have to physically operate their vehicles will have an incredibly extensive ripple effect.
Here are some of the areas that will see monumental changes.
1. Lemon Law
Of course, as a lemon lawyer in Los Angeles, I have to mention how autonomous cars will impact lemon law. As lemon law in the United States was enacted in the 1970s, most of the qualifying defects revolve around a vehicle’s hardware (i.e engine, transmission, brakes, steering, etc.).
While these components will still be vital to self-driving vehicles, the sophistication of sensors, radars, cameras, and GPS software will become equally (if not more) important to the safety, value, or functionality of a car.
In a world dominated by driverless vehicles, lemon law across the United States will need to account for faulty software systems and components that attribute to autopilot features. We have several predictions for lemon law once self-driving cars become commercialized. Chances are, it will look a lot different!
2. Car Insurance
Perhaps the biggest change driverless cars will make is the elimination of human error on the road. Once this technology becomes the norm, ideally, there should be no more “accidents” in which a human driver is at fault. So, with this in mind, it’s very likely that people will seldom buy car insurance with coverage for collision and anything else that covers human error.
Now, as the need for premium car insurance declines, it seems obvious that the liability for accidents would fall on the auto manufacturer. Therefore, car insurance for both everyday drivers and auto giants will likely look very different than it does today.
3. Business Operations
It’s no secret that businesses are becoming incredibly customer-centric. More and more, we are seeing companies do amazing things to make life easier for consumers. Perhaps the biggest trend is that businesses are working to bring their offerings straight to the customer, thanks to companies like Amazon leading the way.
As driverless cars become widespread, we can expect to see an increase in mobilized business operations. Toyota has recently discussed the plan to create a versatile self-driving business vehicle capable of delivering packages, serving as a mobile hotel room, office, taxi, moving truck, and more.
While this is still speculation, we could potentially see driverless vehicles in the form of mobile grocery stores, gyms, repair shops, and much, much more; all of which comes directly to a customer’s home on command. The business possibilities here are virtually endless!
The ripple effect of self-driving vehicles is very far-reaching. The good news is it seems this technology will be readily available for commercial use in our lifetime! In terms of the law and how we live our day-to-day lives in a world with driverless cars, we are certainly in for an exciting ride (pun intended)!