With every new wave of technology we are faced with the dilemma of integrating that innovation into both the practice and legal framework of society. So when innovation is visible on the horizon it can’t hurt to start postulating about the potential benefits and burdens that such new technologies may bring.
Today lets focus on the potential future of our roadways and the introduction of self-driving cars. With Google’s self-driving cars logging over 300,000 miles, it is difficult to brush aside the very real possibility of what seems like a technology reserved only for science fiction movies. In fact, self-driving cars are legal in Nevada. And the potential benefits of such automobiles are tremendous. According to Google, only one accident has occurred during the 300,000+ miles of road testing. In fact, that single collision was the result of human error, with the self-driven car being hit by a human-driven vehicle. Imagine if you could spend your commute to work watching the news or writing an email. Future generations may not have to worry about the hazards of texting or drunk driving.
However, from a legal perspective this new technology brings an onslaught of unknowns. Who is liable if your self-driving car is involved in an accident? Is this an individual tort against the owner of the vehicle at fault or is this a products liability claim against the manufacturer? Similarly, who is at fault if your automatic vehicle exceeds the speed limit, runs a red light, etc.? Will these become strict liability offenses where product malfunction is not a defense?
Furthermore, new technologies rarely sweep the nation overnight. During the transition period, how will we accommodate self-driving cars on roads that are predominantly filled with people-driven vehicles?
Developing such laws requires a delicate balance between protecting society and promoting the growth of new technologies. Regulations that are too lenient will threaten human safety. Regulations that are too strict will stifle a promising technology industry.
Developing traffic laws for self-driving vehicles . . . a fascinating reality for the science fiction lover.