Self-driving cars have been a staple of the science fiction genre since the late 1800s. However, Americans didn’t start believing in autonomous vehicle technology until the summer of 1939, when General Motors turned pulp fiction speculation into reality by introducing the concept of self-driving cars to guests at the New York World’s Fair. Today, manufacturers, researchers, and lawmakers are aggressively debating the technological and ethical concerns surrounding these vehicles before they are mass-produced and released to the public.
Negligent, fatigued, and intoxicated motorists are responsible for over 40,000 traffic fatalities in the United States each year. Although the automotive industry is marketing AV technology as the answer to this deadly problem, many critics are concerned that self-driving vehicles aren’t equipped to take up the challenge. After all, a self-driving Uber SUV made international headlines after killing a pedestrian in Arizona last year.
However, unlike other states, Florida is embracing the future of self-driving vehicles. On June 13, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law that allows autonomous vehicles to “operate in this state regardless of whether a human operator is physically present in the vehicle.” Terrifyingly, it also amends previous traffic rules that prevent people from using their phones or watching television shows while a vehicle is in motion. The purpose of this amendment is to prepare residents for a future where AIs are totally responsible for operating a vehicle.
Aaron Gordon, a senior reporter for Jalopnik, explains the dangers surrounding this new law in his article, “Florida’s Potentially Deadly Autonomous Car Experiment Is Just Beginning.” He writes, “While two other states, Michigan and Texas, allow so-called ‘free-people vehicles, Florida’s law goes beyond that by prohibiting local regulations to differ from the state law, essentially turning all of the state’s public roads into one giant AV testing lab.”
But what protections are in place for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists? Last year, an Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian because its sensors couldn’t differentiate a person from an “unrecognized object.” And there have been multiple reports of Tesla and Waymo vehicles being involved in serious traffic collisions.
According to Gordon, the new law in Florida could open “the door for Tesla to push a software update to all its cars in Florida no longer requiring drivers to keep their hands on the wheel when Autopilot is engaged.”
Passengers in self-driving vehicles are now exempt from many of our state’s driver safety laws. So, who can be held liable if an accident occurs?
Personal injury cases involving self-driving vehicles and AI technology embody an untested legal frontier with a disconcertingly small body of precedent. Per Florida’s new law, an automotive company could be held liable for a car accident because automated driving systems function as a vehicle “operator.” However, it can be difficult to establish fault if the company didn’t design the system’s code in-house.
In his article, Gordon interviewed Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who studies the legal issues surrounding autonomous vehicle technology. According to Smith, Florida is hoping to attract AV businesses by “giving them a fertile ground to run their product in real-world environments” because “everything is legal until it is not.” Likewise, Dorothy Glancy, a law professor at Santa Clara University who specializes in transportation law, claims that residents who didn’t consent to participate in this state experiment are “going to die,” though the question is “whether [autonomous vehicles] will kill fewer people than human drivers.”
Unfortunately, it will take tragic risks and losses before lawmakers establish comprehensive policies that tackle the issues surrounding self-driving vehicles. For this reason and more, it’s critical that you contact an experienced legal representative if you’re harmed in an accident caused by an autonomous vehicle.
Call The Pittman Firm, P.A. if you require legal representation after a car collision. Our skilled and experienced car accident attorneys can investigate your case, identify the negligent parties, and develop a litigation strategy that aims to maximize your claim. With our guidance, you can recover monetary damages that alleviate your injury-related debts and safeguard your standard of living.
We’re available 24/7 and work on a contingency fee basis. Contact The Pittman Firm, P.A. at (850) 764-0383 to schedule a free consultation today. We represent victims across the Florida panhandle and throughout the United States.