Congratulations to our 2018 scholarship winner, Tihanne Mar-Shall!
The first person killed by an autonomous vehicle was Elaine Herzberg. The car detected Elaine six seconds before impact but did not swerve because Uber had deactivated the emergency brake system to ensure the car would ride more smoothly (Schmitt, 2019). The backup driver was watching a show on her phone and did not become aware until after Elaine was hit. Uber settled a civil case with Elaine’s family and the Arizona prosecutor decided not to criminally charge Uber but may still charge the vehicle operator with vehicular manslaughter. This case highlights the safety challenges of autonomous vehicles while also presenting a situation needing different regulation legally. More than 30,000 people a year in the US die due to car accidents, vehicle emissions are taking a toll on the environment, an average of 42 hours are spent in traffic per year, 90% of accidents are due to human error, and self-driving cars may be the solution to many of the issues of traditional automobiles (Brodsky, 2016). The challenge with public safety these new cars present is that although they may be considered safer (Marchant & Lindor, 2012; Brodsky, 2016; Walker, 2019), they still have to interact with other human drivers and operators (Walker, 2019). Allowing companies to self regulate the safety of the technology of autonomous vehicles is dangerous. The regulations of these vehicles need to include implementation on a federal scale while adapting liability law to suit the responsibility of companies and the new technology.
There are no special regulations to ensure the safety of autonomous vehicles at this time (Schmitt, 2019) which allowed Uber to use autonomous vehicles with important safety features disabled. Real-world testing on public roads is important for autonomous driving technology software to learn from real-world conditions (Walker, 2019). One way companies are qualifying the safety of their vehicles is the number of testing miles the car has driven in real life conditions. Many argue the safety record for self-driving cars is not proven because it is unclear what qualifies as enough testing miles in real life conditions to equate to being safe to implement on a large scale (Walker, 2019).
Federal legislation would provide the most logical path for regulation of autonomous vehicles. The government should implement regulations on the companies manufacturing autonomous vehicles to prove they are as safe as they claim. These regulations could include mandatory safety features like the emergency brake system Uber disengaged, a minimum number of testing miles in simulated cities before allowing the use of the cars in real life driving conditions, and adapting the legal framework of liability law. The government is currently relying on companies to police themselves (Schmitt, 2019) which is not always effective as seen in the case of the Uber incident. Another area of regulation would involve who would be liable for car accidents. In most cases involving a totally autonomous vehicle, the driver is unlikely to be a factor in the liability determination, because when one does crash it will likely be due to the collision avoidance system or the vehicle encountered conditions it wasn’t programmed to address (Marchant & Lindor, 2012).
If all of these regulations were implemented, it would better ensure safe roads for the public. Researchers of these vehicles claim these cars will increase road safety by reducing collisions, resulting in a net decrease in the number of accidents, and create new modes of failure attributing liability to the vehicle instead of human drivers (Marchant & Lindor, 2012). These vehicles present new challenges legally but implementation would increase the overall safety of roads by reducing the amount of human error. As long as the manufacturing and testing of self- driving vehicles are regulated on a federal level, they have the potential to reduce the issues currently associated with traditional automobiles.
Barra, M. (2018, October 5). Why self-driving cars need federal regulations. Retrieved from http://axios.com
Brodsky, J. S. (2016). Autonomous vehicle regulation: How an uncertain legal landscape may hit the brakes on self-driving cars. Berkeley Tech. LJ, 31, 851.
Marchant, G. E., & Lindor, R. A. (2012). The coming collision between autonomous vehicles and the liability system. Santa Clara L. Rev., 52, 1321.
Schmitt, A. (2019, March 8). Uber Got Off the Hook for Killing a Pedestrian with its Self- Driving Car. Retrieved from http://streetsblog.org
Walker, A. (2019, March 8). Are self-driving cars safe for our cities?. Retrieved from http://curbed.com