The Autonomous (Driverless) Car

Okay, you drive up to a red light intersection with two lanes.  In the right lane next to you there is a car with no one in the driver or front passenger seats.  You do, however, see a person in the back, left-side, passenger seat.  As soon as you realize what you are seeing, the traffic light turns green and the car to your right drives away.

You are sure that what you saw was an illusion or hallucination.  It wasn’t either.  Not many people are aware that the automobile industry has been working on driverless technology for years.  There are already a number of automobiles that have the technology that keeps cars in their lanes and avoid accidents.  These automobiles are equipped with a steering wheel and pedals.  The new driverless car has neither and does not run on gasoline.

There are a number of automobile manufacturers working on the autonomous car, but Google’s self-driving car, “The Google Chauffer,” is the first driverless car project on the brink of having driverless automobiles on city streets soon.  These autonomous cars will be sensored and computer powered and will not have a steering wheel, pedals or use gasoline.  Even though fully driverless automobiles will not be available for sale to the public in the near future, Google hopes to have 100 Google self-driving cars on public roads by this time next year for further testing and tweaking.

Because of the unknown of the driverless car pertaining to auto accidents, most believe that the liability will shift to the car manufacturer if an accident with a driverless car happens.  Liability could be negligence, design defects and manufacturing defects – just to name a few.

Virginia still has law that is rarely applicable, that a sudden emergency causing an accident is not negligence of the driver.  This could mean that if a self driven car, causes a car accident in Virginia, the owner of the vehicle may not be responsible.  Of course if self driven cars become more prevalent, Virginia personal injury law would need to change to keep of with the times.

At this time, there are two known driverless car accidents.  In 2011 a “human-controlled” Google driverless car was involved in a crash.  Before that accident, another “human-controlled” Google driverless car rear-ended another car while at a stop light.  It is stated, by Google, that these accidents were not the fault of the driverless car, but of the human operating it.

Many states are working on laws permitting the use of autonomous cars on their streets.  At this time, three are only three states that fully permit the testing of the driverless car on city streets.  In March 2012, Nevada became the first state to pass the law and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued the first license for an autonomous car in May 2012 to a Toyota Prius, modified with Google’s experimental driverless technology.  In April 2012, Florida became the second state and in September 2012, California became the third state.  Michigan signed legislation allowing the testing of self-driving cars in December 2012.  The Michigan legislation (unlike Nevada, Florida and California) requires a human in the driver seat at all times.

One thing is certain, if driverless cars become common reality, then the landscape of car accident injury cases in Virginia and the rest of the country will change dramatically.

So, if you are stopped at a traffic light and the car next to you have no driver, don’t think you are hallucinating – it’s the wave of the future and the future is now.

Vaden Warren is a Charlottesville personal injury lawyer with the Warren Firm.  While we are located in Charlottesville, we represent people all across Virginia.  The Warren Firm only represents people injured in car accidents, the families of wrongful death victims, and other serious injury cases.  For more information, please give us a call at 434-972-9090.