As children, many of us were under the impression that by the year 2000 we would have robots to clean our homes, kitchens that automatically cooked our food, and flying cars to take us to work and school. While the vast majority of the Space Age conveniences featured on the Jetsons are still only possibilities for a future era, some of what was once considered only science fiction is actually becoming a reality in our lifetime. One of the most exciting of these modern day marvels is the autonomous car.
While self-driving cars are neither widely popular nor remotely affordable right now, we have seen many such vehicles being tested on our roads, especially in Florida. Some tests have gone very well while others have ended in crashes and other unfortunate incidents. Recently in Arizona, there was a crash caused by another driver who turned into the autonomous vehicle, and, in California, some tests resulted in red lights being ran by self-driving cars. What is important here, however, is that there is a tremendous amount of interest in self-driving cars by government and independent investors in the states where these tests are going on. While there is still a lot more testing and regulatory hurdles ahead before any major rollout can occur, it is clear that autonomous cars will have a huge effect on everything from law enforcement to auto insurance to our nation’s economy.
Many people are wondering that if there is no actual driver of an autonomous vehicle and safety standards are rigorously followed, will law enforcement even apply to the motorists of the near future? The answer is yes, as a large array of legal issues associated with travel by car will still exist. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however, the typical reasons for police to pull a vehicle over will become obsolete. By removing a human driver, we also remove the causes of most motor vehicle accidents such as speeding, driving under the influence, texting or being on the phone while driving, road rage, etc. But there are still violations that will be enforced, such as equipment and seat belt violations, driving too slowly, or illegal activity by passengers. Cars will not be able to take care of themselves, and humans will still be in and responsible for the vehicles, so it is not as though there will be no possibility of violations. A possible perk of autonomous cars will be reduced racial profiling. Right now, police use their discretion when pulling over vehicles, and some episodes have resulted in tragic situations. With self-driving vehicles, those violations allowing discretion will mostly be eradicated. But now we must wonder, if an autonomous car is pulled over, who gets the ticket? Since some manufacturers are accepting of any fault while others are still mulling this over, we don’t yet have a clear-cut answer.
Another large hurdle for autonomous vehicles is auto insurance. Depending on the state, a self-driving car may only need minimum liability insurance or as much as a $5 million-dollar policy. However, once they become routinely accepted and insurers have to offer coverage, the cost will more than likely plummet due to the need for full coverage being unnecessary. While this might negatively affect the insurance industry, there is still the question of who can be sued for accidents that do occur. If humans are taken out of the equation, then the fault can only be that of the manufacturer, so it only makes sense that the manufacturers will hold the responsibility and pay out of their pockets. There are still so many unknowns at this point due to a lack of data, that a final verdict is a long way off.
The economy is another concern. Beyond the possible negative consequences on the insurance industry, autonomous vehicles could have a dire effect on jobs in the transportation sector. The jobs of many workers who currently make a living at driving, whether it’s crossing the country in a big rig or local public transportation, would be phased out, so local government agencies are hard at work examining alternatives for the displacement that will most likely occur.
With so many unknowns, some might think it’s too early to tell if self-driving cars will really become as popular as expected. However, technology moves at a furious pace and it won’t be long before any questions concerning the viability of autonomous vehicles are answered by technology. Autonomous vehicles will, at some point, become the most widely used, if not the only, type of vehicle on the road. We are still in the beginning stages of development, but once a few speed bumps have been crossed, there will be no stopping the self-driving car and, hopefully, the diminished amount of litigation stemming from this modern day marvel.