It’s no secret that self-driving cars are the future of transportation. Once seen as a sci-fi fantasy, self-driving cars are here and they’re on the road right now. As car accident attorneys, we fully understand the landscape of personal liability in car accidents. Who is at fault, what it costs the injured party, and how we remedy these accidents is more or less cut and dry.
But, consider this: Who is at fault when an accident occurs between a self-driving car and a normal car? What legal standards apply to this situation?
Does the fault rest on the ‘passenger’ in the driverless car? The driverless car itself? The driver in the normal car? And where do the self-driving car manufacturers come into the mix?
To understand all this, let’s take a look at the current state of self-driving cars, how they’re doing, and where they’re headed.
Self-driving Cars Today
Self-driving cars, driverless cars or autonomous vehicles (AVs) are cars that take passengers from point A to point B without the need of a driver. In a perfect world, you’d enter where you’re going into the GPS, hop in the back seat, take a nap, and wake up at your destination. At least, that’s the goal.
The current state of autonomous vehicles is actually far-less advanced. To clarify, most systems working in cars are called ‘advanced driver assistance systems (ADASs)’ which include features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assistance, emergency braking and more. In other words, you still have to drive but just in a less active fashion than usual.
Levels of Autonomy in Vehicles
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sorts autonomy of cars into six different levels, zero to five. Level zero means no autonomy, or just a regular, driven car. Level five autonomy is the dream car mentioned above where there is no driver, and you could sleep in the back seat if you wanted.
We are currently capable of level two autonomy, which is where the car can steer and brake/accelerate itself in some circumstances (ADAS), However, the driver must perform all other operations manually and be fully aware of the driving environment. Cars like Teslas and Cadillacs have this autopilot feature, but drivers must be able to take over at a moment’s notice. In addition, this new technology is unproven in the law’s eyes, as legal regulations require human control of a moving vehicle at all times.
The next level of autonomy, level three, is still highly questionable. It’s not available in any cars commercially, but tests are being run by many different companies. Level three automation would be a car with automated driving systems (ADSs), where the car can perform almost all aspects of driving. But, the driver must remain aware of the driving environment to take control when necessary.
Self-Driving Car Fatalities
So, how are the self-driving cars doing? Are they safer, more dangerous, or improving in any way?
As mentioned before, many cars on the road today have level two autonomy, with advanced driver assistance systems. Since these were introduced a couple of years ago, a handful of people have died as a result. In four of the incidents, the drivers were distracted and died while using Tesla’s autopilot feature, which requires you to still pay full attention to the road. In the other incident, the driver lived but killed a pedestrian.
There has been one death so far from a level three autonomous car being tested by Uber. Again, the driver doesn’t need to drive but still has to keep fully aware of the environment and take over in case of emergencies. The driver was apparently watching TV at the wheel for almost 45 minutes before running down a pedestrian.
How Can We Prove Which Car is Safer?
Whether self-driving cars are safer than traditional cars is still an unanswered question. The goal of self-driving car manufacturers is to create a system that is demonstrably safer than human-driven cars. In order to demonstrate this, self-driving cars need to drive millions and millions of more miles for their data to stack up fairly against normal cars’.
The main way to measure safety is to compare the number of deaths per a certain number of miles between the two. Currently, normal car crash fatalities number 1.18 deaths every 100 million miles driven. Google’s Waymo program currently has about 5 million miles of data. So, it’s way too soon to tell. However, are we willing to risk more driver and pedestrian deaths to get an answer to this question? That’s hard to say.
Driving is the Most Dangerous Form of Travel Today
We know one thing: manual or automated, driving is incredibly dangerous. It becomes even more dangerous as distracted driving deaths rise, likely because of smartphones. Distracted driving injuries numbered almost 400,000 in 2017, and distracted driving is a big category. It includes texting, changing the radio, even daydreaming. If cars drove themselves safely, we could eliminate a lot of problems.
Drunk driving claims 29 lives per day, over 10,000 every year. Self-driving cars seek to remedy this problem too. Granted not getting behind the wheel is the current approach to prevent drunk driving, it’s clear that driving is always dangerous. We can all agree that we lose too many good people to car accidents to not seek a solution. However, forcing self-driving cars on the road before we are ready may cause even more accidents.
Is Full Autonomy Even Possible?
Obviously, we are still far away from a completely driverless personal transportation system. Then the question remains, when will we have it? What does a driverless car lack?
Well, level five autonomy is the goal. This means the car has no driver and passengers don’t ever have to take control of the wheel. So why is full autonomy seemingly unattainable?
Even with new and advanced systems of artificial intelligence (AI) around today, a truly autonomous vehicle would require such levels of judgment, rational thought, and wisdom that we have yet to see anywhere in the world. It requires a level of human-ness to make certain decisions that no AI has shown yet.
Humans have a certain intuition for deciding other human’s behavior. A car can’t tell if that person skateboarding is going to cut in front of it. However, a person knows a kid on a skateboard might not be aware of them and thus anticipates him cutting in front of the car before it even happens. Or less extreme, you may be parking at a strange angle in your driveway so that your roommate can also fit. A car can’t know that. There are so many variables that we take for granted every day that a driverless car cannot figure out, and maybe won’t ever be able to.
We Know How to Handle Any Accident
No matter what’s going on out on the roads, we wish everyone safe travels. However, car accidents are common, and from multiple car pile-ups to minor fender benders, trust that we can handle your car accident the right way.
With advanced driver assistance systems becoming more and more popular in cars, we are actively positioning ourselves to be prepared for this future legal work.
If you or a loved one is dealing with any car accident damages, you should seek out the advice of legal professionals. Contact the Milwaukee car accident lawyers of Domnitz & Domnitz, S.C. for a free consultation, use our online form or call us now at (414) 289-0909.