The General Motors exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair stunned guests by introducing the concept of a fully-functional autonomous vehicle. This now-famous exhibit took inspiration from pulp science fiction magazines by envisioning a future where self-driving cars could safely and efficiently transport people to their intended destinations. Twenty years later, General Motors turned this vision into reality, and officially sparked the international race to release the first mass-produced model.
Today, economists, media outlets, and automakers alike predict that autonomous vehicles will eventually bring about the “death of private car ownership.” To no one’s surprise, innovative rideshare giants Uber and Lyft have jumped on the bandwagon by investing in self-driving vehicles, to dubious success.
On March 18, 2018, a self-driving Volvo sport utility vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian as she was crossing the street. Although the Uber safety driver – who was watching The Voice on her phone instead of the road – tried to swerve at the last second, it wasn’t enough to circumvent this unfortunate tragedy. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report about the accident two months later and explained that the vehicle’s computer system had confused the pedestrian with an “unrecognized object.”
Last July, an autonomous Google Car was rear-ended because its eight sensors couldn’t process, circumvent, and correct an otherwise preventable situation. Researchers and programmers are concerned about this vehicle because its sensors are extremely vulnerable to poor weather, intense sunlight, and defective traffic signals. Plus, the sensors can’t even process traffic signs if they’re covered by stickers or graffiti. If this issue is left unresolved, it could lead to severe collisions and fatalities in the near future.
Aside from these accidents, there have also been multiple reports of Tesla cars and a self-driving Waymo minivan being involved in serious traffic collisions. Understandably, these incidents have prompted people to question the future and safety of autonomous technology. In fact, many researchers believe that we can’t rely on this technology to effectively process the actions of unpredictable motorists and pedestrians.
There is another safety factor that needs to be addressed before these vehicles can be mass produced: hackers. Back in 2015, Fiat Chrysler had to recall over 1 million Jeep Cherokees after security experts were able to remotely control hundreds of vehicles during a test. According to reports, the security experts were able to manipulate a vehicle’s radio, windshield wipers, air conditioning system, and brakes, ultimately disempowering the poor safety driver who was stuck going 70mph on the freeway.
Every automaker wants to be the first company to successfully mass-produce a functioning autonomous vehicle. Of course, this means that company programmers are being forced to recreate and modify increasingly fragmented codes. If there are any weaknesses or openings left in the final program, hackers and third-party entities may be able to manipulate and even operate a customer’s vehicle.
Manufacturers, researchers, programmers, and lawmakers should work together to resolve as many ethical and technical issues as possible before releasing an autonomous vehicle model to the public.
Unfortunately, public concern hasn’t stopped Waymo and Lyft from offering 10 self-driving vehicles on the ridesharing company’s app.
In 2017, Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car company, announced a partnership with Lyft, a popular ridesharing company. The purpose of this collaboration was to improve the transportation industry by developing safe self-driving products. Earlier this month, the partnered companies announced that 10 autonomous Waymo vehicles will be available on the Lyft app and accessible to customers in Phoenix, Arizona. The ridesharing company has already assured customers that safety drivers will be available in these vehicles for the foreseeable future.
This is an impressive and alarming leap forward for both autonomous vehicles and ridesharing services. Although Phoenix is serving as the testing ground for now, both Waymo and Lyft plan to expand this service to other cities and states in the future.
But who is responsible if a self-driving vehicle is involved in an accident?
Waymo and Lyft jumped the gun in releasing these vehicles for public use. There are simply too many liability risks and security issues associated with autonomous vehicle technology, at least at present. It’s likely that many innocent bystanders and tech enthusiasts in Arizona will put themselves in danger just to test out these self-driving vehicles. And who will take responsibility when an accident occurs? Should it be the safety driver who isn’t operating the vehicle? The manufacturer? Lyft? In the 2018 Uber case, the pedestrian’s surviving family was able to file a $10 million claim against the city of Tempe, Arizona. For now, personal injury and wrongful death claims will need to be judged on a case-by-case basis.
Contact The Pittman Firm, P.A. if you’ve been injured by a negligent driver or a faulty self-driving vehicle. Our compassionate and trial-tested legal team can investigate your case, pinpoint a liable party, and help you pursue damages that mitigate your injury-related debts.
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.