It’s being reported that self-driving cars may soon be coming to a street near each of us. Volvo Car Group and Google Inc. recently announced that, after several years of testing self-driving cars on freeways, they have now started to test the cars on city streets. Unlike a freeway where driving conditions are more predictable, a city street is full of unpredictable scenarios and hundreds of moving objects. A self-driving car relies on video cameras, radar sensors, lasers, and a database of information collected from manually driven cars to navigate down city streets. Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving car project, explained that its software “can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously – pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn.” Even though Google’s test cars have logged more than 700,000 miles in self-driving mode since 2009, Google admits that its cars still have many problems that need to be resolved.
Some of those problems could be of a legal nature. A self-driving car is programmed to minimize harm to others. For example, if the car is faced with a choice between crashing into one of two objects, the car could swerve to avoid hitting a pedestrian, and then hit another vehicle. The car has to decide which of the two objects poses the most danger at the time. Who will be liable for the injuries sustained by the person or vehicle the car chooses to crash into? Would it be the software programmer or would it be the person who put the self-driving car in motion?
I suspect these questions are going to cause quite a bit of confusion in the product liability world in the future. Self-driving cars are sure to come with bugs and glitches that will need to be promptly remedied through a recall system. There will certainly be lawsuits filed in our civil justice system. Our firm has successfully handled similar issues in our cases against Toyota that dealt with unintended and sudden acceleration. If you would like more information on how to pursue product liability cases involving defective car computer software, contact Cole Portis, who is the head of our firm’s Product Liability Section Head, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Cole.Portis@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Automotive News and Wired.com
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