Feds Outline Plan to Regulate Driverless Cars and Prevent Patchwork Legislation

October 27, 2016 | Crandall & Pera Law
Feds Outline Plan to Regulate Driverless Cars and Prevent Patchwork Legislation

On Monday, September 19, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx finally rolled out a policy paper that is intended to address the regulation of driverless vehicles. At the moment, states are responsible for regulating drivers, while the federal government regulates automakers, requiring safety features and handling defective vehicles. The question everywhere is whether the onboard software that operates driverless vehicles qualifies as a safety feature or as a driver.

Preventing future problems

The policy paper from the Transportation Secretary is intended to prevent patchwork legislation from creating massive obstacles to the emerging technology. Test vehicles in different states have already spurred local rules in California, Nevada, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania with more on the way. Raj Rajkumar, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who is at the forefront of driverless car innovations, told The Washington Post, “This could be a nightmare, if you drive across a state border in an autonomous vehicle.” Creating legislation to deal with driverless cars is no easy task. The Washington Post reported, “The Department of Transportation opted to describe the document as ‘guidance’ for the industry and state officials, both out of caution and for a practical reason... Federal officials worried the premature regulation of that technology might inhibit its development. They also realized the ponderous process to produce an official federal rule — it’s not uncommon for it to take five years — could leave them with something already outdated before it saw the light of day.”

The heart of the machine

In addition to the timing, solving the question of liability in an accident is no small feat. At the heart of the dilemma is the impossible question; if a lethal collision between two parties is unavoidable, which party should the computer choose to protect? When a family member dies because an automated vehicle made a decision, who can be held responsible? Is road safety ultimately going to wind up in the hands of software engineers, or will they hide behind the code that ultimately makes the decision? These are the types of questions that will face our legislators in the coming years, and they will not be easy to answer. While advancing technology ultimately makes our world safer, developing those technologies carries an inherent risk. Before GPS navigation improved, drivers found themselves turning off bridges or driving into lakes. Smartphones, despite their capabilities, interrupt drivers on a regular basis, causing minor and major accidents alike. Onboard information centers in vehicles are more distracting than they are helpful. Each of these technologies is wonderful when it works properly, but potentially deadly during development. At the moment, distracted driving is our biggest challenge. In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, 10% of all fatal crashes and 18% of all injury crashes were caused by distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If a distracted driver injured you or your loved one, you may be entitled to compensation. The experienced Ohio and Kentucky auto accident attorneys at Crandall & Pera Law can evaluate your case and help get you the compensation you deserve. Call 877.686.8879 for our Ohio team, 877.651.7764 for our Kentucky accident attorneys, or contact us today for a free consultation.