Self-Driving Cars – More Questions Than Answers

Yes, It Changes Everything

Self-driving cars in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Self-driving cars are taking the world by storm. Just a few years ago, the idea of a self-driving car sounded like something from a futuristic movie. Today, most major US cities are testing self-driving cars with full speed. Furthermore, the public is searching for the best use of self-driving cars. Airports, college campuses and ride-sharing companies seem to be a good place to start.

Self-Driving Cars Defined

The definition of a self-driving car is not yet clear and will likely evolve in the next few years. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Society adopted the standard created by The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International) in 2014.

This SAE standard defines six (6) self-driving car levels: Level 0 (totally non-autonomous), Level 1 (driver assistance), Level 2 (partial assistance), Level 3 (conditional assistance, in case of emergency, the driver can take control of a car), Level 4 (high automation) and Level 5 (totally autonomous).

Currently, car manufacturers are mostly concerned with Level 3, conditional assistance. The question associated with this level is – what if the human driver is not capable of taking full control of the car during an emergency situation? Some manufacturers want to skip Level 3 altogether and proceed directly to level 4, high automation. Ford is one of them.

The autonomous cars that Ford is planning to put on the road by 2021, are considered to be Level 4 vehicles.

Government Regulations

Self-driving cars don’t exactly fit into the current regulatory structure. Today, the Department of Transportation dictates how vehicles are built (airbags, seat belts, crumple zones), and the states regulate vehicles operation (licensing, insurance, traffic laws).

But, this division of labor doesn't work with self-driving cars - how the car is designed controls how the car operates.

Self-Driving Car Companies

What brand is the best? Not all the vehicles are made equal and no one knows yet what self-driving car will have the best record in terms of safety, reliability, convenience, and privacy. However, according to Navigant Research, most likely Ford and GM will dominate the self-driving cars market by 2021.

HD Road Maps

Self-driving cars require very accurate and up-to-date high-definition (HD) mapping systems. A lot of work needs to be done in this area to insure automated vehicles have a perfect and complete picture of their surroundings.

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Self-Driving Car Accidents:
Who is Liable?

There are always disputes concerning liability/responsibility. Currently, in the case of a car accident, most of the liability is on the driver who committed the traffic infraction, and as a result, caused an accident.

With self-driving cars, the liability will shift from the driver to the car manufacturer, car components manufacturer, car maintenance shop and the technology firms that produced the software that run the cars. Installed latest software updates will be very important for the performance of the self-driving car.

Experts predict that with self-driving cars there will be fewer car accidents compared to what we have today, but accident compensations could be much higher.

Self-Driving Car Insurance

Since, in most cases, drivers will not be responsible for car accidents in automated vehicles, the need for personal car insurance will slowly go away. Instead, cars manufacturers, car components manufacturers and tech companies will have to buy high limit insurance to cover any accident.

Self-Driving Cars and Data

In the event of an accident, the big challenge will be to determine if a self-operating system was at fault. To answer this question, insurance companies (and possible car accident attorneys) would have to look at the actual data. And this itself brings many other questions. For example, who owns the data and will this data be made available? How software intellectual property laws and cybersecurity laws will be involved and effected? Keep in mind, each car manufacturer will be using proprietary software.

Accident Video Recording – Black Box

Today, in any taxi there is a built-in video recorder that videotapes the last 10 seconds before any accidents. The same video recorders will be installed in every self-driving car to determine liability for an accident.

What Happens in Las Vegas?

Nevada was the first state that allowed testing of autonomous cars on public roads.

On February 15, 2012, Nevada approved regulations allowing for the operation of self-driving vehicles on the state’s roadways.

On May 5, 2015 Nevada granted the first license for an autonomous commercial truck to operate on an open public highway.

On June 16, 2017, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed autonomous vehicle research legislation (Assembly Bill 69), allowing testing and commercial public deployment of fully self-driving vehicles.

Currently, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles is accepting applications for testing of the self-driving cars.

According to DMV website, “Manufacturers, software developers and others interested in testing their vehicles in Nevada must submit an application to the Department along with proof that one or more of your autonomous vehicles have been driven for a combined minimum of at least 10,000 miles, a complete description of your autonomous technology, a detailed safety plan, and your plan for hiring and training your test drivers. Additional requirements and information are detailed in the application packet.”

Nevada turned out to be the perfect place to test self-driving cars in extreme heat conditions.

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Final Thoughts

Many new laws will be created and current laws will have to be changed to adapt to the new rules of the road. Still, there are so many questions that need to be answered.

How are the police going to enforce the rules of the road? Most likely, traffic tickets and DUI arrests will go away, but what is going to replace them?

Will autonomous cars be able to accommodate disabled persons and how?

The less people drive, the less driving experience they will have. In case of emergencies, will the driver with little driving experience be able to take control of a car?

How will self-driving cars respond to severe weather conditions, like high wind alerts, severe heat alerts, snow blizzards?

Do we need to have a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, so that one self-driving car could communicate with another self-driving car in case of unexpected communication failure? This means that cars will share data, such as location, speed and direction. What laws will cover this data sharing?

How self-driving cars will communicate with pedestrians when the car is ready to stop?

And then, there is a car rental industry. How will self-driving cars affect car rentals and who is liable, if a rental car involved in an accident?

Right now, there are more questions than answers, but most of these questions will be answered in the next 5 years.

We are planning to follow the laws surrounding self-driving cars very closely and update this article with the new information as soon as it becomes available to us.

Stay tuned!

Last updated on September 23, 2017.

Heshmati & Associates

Heshmati & Associates are criminal defense and personal injury attorneys practicing law in Las Vegas, Nevada. They have handled thousands of car accident cases.

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