Near Misses in Google Cars Raise Questions About Self Driving Technology
As car manufacturers throughout the world spend millions of dollars on the research and development of safer cars, it is no longer a question of “if” but “when” driverless cars will become an ordinary means of travel. The idea of an automated morning commute is a dream to countless drivers in Virginia who regularly deal with the stops and starts of congested traffic, be it on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, or the Downtown Tunnel between Portsmouth and Norfolk.
However, there are a number of legal and safety questions that remain unanswered as the reality of driverless cars steadily approaches. What are the rules of the road between driverless and human-operated vehicles? Who is legally responsible when a driverless vehicle causes an accident? Will the increase in vehicles on a given roadway due to driverless vehicle technology offset any safety improvements from the same technology?
A story released this week raised new questions about the technology itself. It revealed Google’s driverless cars had 13 near misses and would have crashed if not for the intervention of human test drivers.
The cars are undergoing extensive testing in California. The figures revealed that between September 2014 and November 2015 there were 272 “failures” reported in the driverless cars and 13 incidents in which the cars came close to crashing.
The 272 failures reported refer to instances in which car detecting technology failed and the driver was notified to take control of the car.
Lawmakers need to answer pressing questions about the liability for crashes of driverless cars and many other issues in the near future. It is important that clear rules are announced and laws enacted to protect the public from what could become a dangerous situation if left unregulated. The nightmare scenario is easy to imagine with driverless cars causing accidents and no guidance or legal recourse for those injured. Thankfully, Virginia is among the few states that has started preparations for driverless vehicles. Safety studies are ongoing at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the Department of Motor Vehicles is working with the General Assembly on creating the legal framework to govern driverless cars.
Driverless cars are the future of day-to-day transportation in this country. It is important that Virginia embraces technological advancements and become a leader in this field. To be a leader, lawmakers must be proactive in dealing with the issue. If we wait and simply react to the introduction of driverless cars, the safety of thousands of Virginians will be at risk.
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