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Self-Driving Vehicles: The Future of Automobiles?

Volvo aims to sell self-driving vehicles by 2020. Last week, at it’s track in Europe, Volvo unveiled its plan to return from a year of less than stellar sales.

Couched in terms of preventing accidents, fatalities and injuries, volvo launched their 2014 line of autonomous vehicles. Volvo hopes to use these vehicles in heavy traffic where sensor information is plentiful.

Volvo’s technology is similar to that of Google and General Motors. Using a system of networked cameras, lasers and sensors that monitor the road in the same way that a driver might. The Volvo system also monitors the person inside the vehicle to determine whether they struggle to keep their eyes open.

Making a comparison to the farmer’s horse, Volvo’s head of government affairs, Anders Eugensson claims that the system is similar because “…if [the farmer] falls asleep the horse can still take him back home.”

Looking towards the future, Volvo sees significant legal issues and complexities with gaining public adoption of wireless vehicles. Yet, with international law making headway in removing blocks to fully autonomous vehicles the company remains optimistic. Prototypes have run thousands of kilometers of test drives on Spain’s public roadways and on the company’s test tracks.

The key, as Volvo claims, is the integration of a mesh wireless network. The network allows cars to give each other a connecting point and essentially establish a train of vehicles traveling together. The braking, acceleration and steering on each car; is controlled electronically by the lead truck operated by a professional driver. A train of self-driving vehicles seems ideal for lengthy journeys. Not only could drivers make better use of their time, but the smoother journey could cut fuel consumption by 20 percent, in Volvo’s estimates.

Aside from the obvious privacy concerns that come along with such advanced vehicles, there are a number of other issues that must be addressed at some point. For instance:

  • What happens if the police need to stop one of these vehicles?
  • Would the vehicle be too polite to aggressive human drivers and allow them to go through traffic, unheeded?
  • What type of insurance would need to be taken out and by whom?

Despite the early successes of Google, GM and Volvo, it’s tough to convince the public to take the risk of these types of vehicles. Like any technological innovation, necessity will dictate the success of autonomous vehicles. With distracted driving becoming more of a problem and placing motorcyclists, other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians in harm’s way, it seems that this necessity may be here sooner than most would wish.

For personal injury attorneys, this is a game changer in every way. Current claims require a showing of negligence by one party in order to determine fault and recovery. However, issues are unsettled regarding who would foot the bill in cases where an autonomous vehicle fails to yield to a driver. This uncertainty could make autonomous vehicles dead on arrival.