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Update on Self-Driving Cars

10 Million Autonomous Cars to be On the Road by 2020

What was once science fiction has become science fact. Self-driving cars are on the road. While the technology has been in development for several years, mass-production of cars equipped with self-driving technology began last month. On July 28, 2017, Tesla released the first 30 of its self-driving equipped Model 3 vehicles. This signaled the beginning of its plan to exponentially increase this number to 100 cars in August, 1,500 in September, and eventually ramping up to 20,000 vehicles per month beginning in December. Tesla revealed that there are nearly 500,000 advance orders on the Model 3, and when you consider that other car manufacturers like GM, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz are investing billions of dollars into self-driving technology, it is quite clear self-driving cars are a force to be reckoned with. If the predictions are correct, there will be nearly 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020. And even though mass production has already begun and millions of self-driving cars are predicted to infiltrate our roads, several important questions remain unanswered. Is self-driving technology safe? What will happen if I am involved in an accident with a self-driving car? Will I need insurance if I am behind the wheel of a self-driving car? Any answer to these questions at this point is a rumor at best. But rumors are often revealing, and it may be of some use to examine some of these rumors in order to prepare for the day you may meet a self-driving car on the road or be behind the wheel of one yourself.

Is Self-Driving Technology Safe?

Human error accounts for around 94% of all car accidents in the United States. Because self-driving technology essentially replaces the human driver and the errors they commit, it should naturally follow that self-driving technology is safer than the alternative. But this logic fails to account for the fact that self-driving technology will utilize several systems to make driving decisions, and these systems are susceptible to errors much like humans. Self-driving technology depends on a combination of cameras, lasers, ultrasonic sensors, and onboard computers to make the decisions for how the car responds. These systems must seamlessly work together to achieve a safe, self-driving experience. But there is no guarantee this will always happen. Even with the advances in technology in our world today, how often is it that your phone freezes or a computer program crashes? Why could this not happen to the technology onboard a self-driving vehicle? It is one thing if your phone reboots while you’re sitting on your couch—it is another if your car decides to reboot while you’re sitting in the driver seat at 70 mph on the interstate. There is no clear indication as to what the car will do if a situation like this occurs, and it appears as if the car manufacturers are taking a trial and error approach to these types of problems. In May of 2016, the driver of a Tesla died in Florida when the vehicle collided with a semi-truck. The truck made a turn in front of the Tesla, which was in autopilot mode at the time. Neither the autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the semi’s tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied and the car drove under the trailer. Tesla responded to the crash by stating that the autopilot is “not perfect,” and used the crash as an opportunity to update its software to an alleged safer version.

Liability and Insurance of Self-Driving Technology

Perhaps the most hotly debated topics of self-driving technology circulate around liability and insurance. These topics generate several questions but provide few answers. Questions arise such as, if humans aren’t driving the cars, how can they be held liable if it crashes? Which then raises questions about car insurance, because if humans aren’t driving, why would they need insurance against potential accidents for which they are not liable? Again, there are no definitive answers to these questions. The government has tossed around the idea of stepping in and creating laws to handle the situation. Manufacturers like Volvo have stated that they will accept full liability whenever one of its cars crash in autonomous mode, while others like Tesla have started selling their cars with an insurance plan customized to their vehicles and the features they offer. Whatever the case may be, it is clear there is no set standard at this point. This means that if you are involved in an accident with a self-driving car, you will more than likely be sent in several different directions looking for answers. Insurance companies are difficult to deal with as it is, and this problem is only complicated by the emergence of self-driving technology. If you find yourself involved in an accident with a self-driving car, it may be best to contact an attorney to help sort out the situation. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group have the experience and skills to handle even the most complex auto case, and may be able to provide the best possible resolution to your case.

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