Related Problem: The Technology is Being Developed Faster Than the Law
Most accidents are due to human error and/or recklessness. With automated vehicles, the human factor would be possibly taken out of the equation. Crashes caused by drunk, stoned, distracted, overtired, speeding, and bad drivers may be a thing of the past if self-driving cars are on the road.
With automakers and technology companies competing to put a fully automated car on the market first, consumers may have access to these vehicles in the near future. My Lexus can already park itself without much assistance. And other manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Tesla, Audi and Cadillac, also have partially automated vehicles set for release within the year. Of course, automations have been in cars for years, such as cruise control and antilock brakes,which have have improved safety and made driving less stressful — but possibly made our roads even more dangerous.
The new technology is currently being applied to tractor-trailers that allow these large, heavy trucks to stop on a dime.
Is an Automated Vehicle Legal?
What does the law have to say about this new technology? New York has a law that requires a driver to keep one hand on the steering wheel, but that was passed in 1967 before automation was possible. Otherwise, the law in most states — including here in Texas — is silent on the issue. Lawmakers simply didn’t envision the “Jetsons ” vehicle would become reality this soon.
In a statement to the New York Times, a Volkswagen governmental relations VP gave her assessment of the legality of automation: “Where it’s not expressly prohibited, we would argue it’s allowed.”
University of South Carolina law and engineering professor Bryant Walker Smith warned, “It’s not just what’s on the books; it’s what’s enforced. If a police officer sees you driving down the road with no hands, he could determine that’s reckless and still give you a ticket. Individual officers have a tremendous amount of discretion.”
Texas Auto Automation Pilot Bill Hits Roadblock
Texas Senator Rodney Ellis proposed legislation last month that would direct the Department of Public Safety to implement automation safety regulations, including notification by companies planning to put automated vehicles on Texas roadways, special licensing of drivers of automated cars and a requirement that a human drive the vehicle. Interesting questions arose during the Senate hearing on the measure, such as who would be liable in a crash caused by an out-of-control automated vehicle and would law enforcement have authority to issue a traffic citation to a driverless car.
Google and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers opposed the legislation, as did several lawmakers, citing concerns that regulation would hinder advancement of the technology and create a patchwork of legality, and the law was not brought to vote this session.
The NHTSA Tests Safety of Auto Drive Technology
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently testing the safety of automated vehicles. The federal agency is exploring how the technology relates to human error and whether the system can adapt to real-life scenarios on the road. The NHTSA recommended that states only allow testing of the automated vehicles, until safety can be fully assessed.