Are driverless cars, also known as autonomous cars, still the future?
A few years ago it seemed highways of self-driving cars was imminent. However after some setbacks, including a class action lawsuit against Tesla Motors over their autopilot system and a fatal crash involving a pedestrian and an Uber autonomous vehicle, it seems some of the initial excitement has been tempered.
Deuterman Law Group first discussed the emerging legal and insurance issues of autonomous vehicles in 2016 on our blog. We posed the question, “When a driverless car causes a crash, who is legally liable?” The answer was largely unknown at that time.
Would the car owner be liable? The car manufacturer? The software engineer who designed the auto-pilot program? Is there a separate standard of liability if it shifts from driver liability to product liability?
Some of those questions are still unknown, but as legislation has developed, North Carolina is ahead of the curve as reported by Shea Denning on the North Carolina Criminal Law Blog by the UNC School of Government. The General Assembly ratified a bill allowing fully autonomous vehicles on state roads.
As we originally discussed, there are different levels of automation set by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and there are two levels of fully autonomous vehicles.
The highest level, SAE Level 5, is an automated system that can perform all driving tasks under all conditions that a human driver could perform. When we think “driverless cars” this is what most often comes to mind – a vehicle that does all the driving for you without any human input.
Level SAE 4 vehicles have an automated system that can conduct the driving task and monitor the driving environment, and the human need not take back control, but the automated system can operate only in certain environments and under certain conditions.
In 2017 North Carolina enacted regulations define fully autonomous vehicles this way: “A motor vehicle equipped with an automated driving system that will not at any time require an occupant to perform any portion of the dynamic driving task when the automated driving system is engaged.”
A dynamic driving task is defined as a “real-time operational and tactical control function required to operate a motor vehicle in motion or which has the engine running.“
An interesting note to this legislation is that there is no requirement that the person operating a fully autonomous vehicle with the automated driving system engaged be a licensed driver.
Note that the absence of the license requirement only applies when the automated driving system is engaged and does not allow unlicensed drivers to handle the dynamic driving tasks. Also the legislature expressly holds the registered owner of a fully autonomous vehicle responsible for any moving violations involving the vehicle.
This means if you are the owner of a Level 4 or Level 5 vehicle that is pulled over for speeding or improper lane change, you are still held responsible and can receive a citation.
At this time there are no SAE Level 4 or Level 5 vehicles on the market, but the major car manufacturers are actively developing them.
This spring SAE International, Ford, GM and Toyota announced the formation of the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium, which seeks to develop and implement safety standards for autonomous vehicles.
As for the https://www.businessinsider.com/driverless-cars-could-negatively-affect-insurance-industry-2017-2insurance questions surrounding driverless cars, those remain to be fully explored. If self-driving cars reduce the risk of a collision, it would seem insurance premiums would also be reduced. If a human driver no longer has the burden, or even the capacity, to control the vehicle in accordance with motor vehicle laws, responsibility will shift to the manufacturers and sellers of the cars.