What will a future with self-driving cars look like?

Many people believe that self-driving cars will be the next major technological advance. Automakers, technology companies such as Google, and transportation companies such as Uber have invested many millions of dollars in bringing this idea closer to reality.

Right now, Uber's self-driving vehicles are operating in Pittsburgh. The automobile company Tesla is piloting self-driving cars on roads across the United States. While these vehicles have drivers available to take the reins at a moment's notice, the fact is that self-driving cars are on American roads right now. The question is how many more self-driving vehicles will take to the roads, and what will this future look like?

The potential upside to self-driving vehicles

Roughly 2 million people are injured and more than 30,000 people are killed in car crashes every single year. Despite safety advances in today's automobiles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported a seven percent increase in fatal traffic crashes from 2014 to 2015. Once reporting is complete, it is likely we will find that traffic-related deaths increased in 2016 as well.

The NHTSA states that human error causes 94 percent of car crashes. Presumably, self-driving vehicles would dramatically reduce the number of injuries and deaths in car wrecks. While this reduction in injuries and deaths would be cause for celebration, many things need to happen before self-driving cars become commonplace.

The unanswered questions about self-driving cars

The most important question about self-driving cars is: When will these vehicles be safe enough for widespread use? A study by the American Association for Justice, titled Driven to Safety, indicates that completely autonomous vehicles are anywhere from two to 20 years away.

Even at the earliest timeframe, these vehicles would share the roads with human-driven cars for another 15 to 20 years. Automakers and government agencies must work closely to ensure that these vehicles are not rushed to the market until the vehicles are as safe as possible.

Liability in a self-driving car crash

Another question we have yet to answer is: Who is responsible when a self-driving car causes a wreck? As there are no "drivers" of self-driving cars, it would seem to make little sense to hold the person in the vehicle accountable, even if his or her car was responsible for the crash. Predictably, automakers of self-driving cars are seeking to shift liability away from their companies even when manufacture and design defects cause injury or death.

The American Association for Justice recommends a strict liability theory of liability, which would mean that automakers would be liable for any injuries or deaths arising from a wreck caused by their cars. While a strict liability theory, automakers would have strong incentives to continue improving and refining technology. Most importantly, the injured would have a fair opportunity to recover adequate compensation for their damages.

While self-driving cars may be a big part of our future, they are not yet part of our present. Negligent or reckless drivers still cause car crashes. In the aftermath, a personal injury lawyer can make a major difference in helping you recover the compensation you need for your medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

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