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Self-Driving Cars Are Catching On, But Who Is Responsible For Crashes?

Self-Driving Cars Are Catching On, But Who Is Responsible For Crashes?On the whole, American drivers are still wary about self-driving technology. It’s a nice idea when it’s just a pipe dream, but it’s quickly becoming much more real than that and drivers are still wary about the idea of sharing roads with self-driving cars today, right now.

But that fact is changing. AAA has been sending out a survey about self-driving cars every year, and while the percentage of drivers who would be afraid to drive in a self-driving car is 63 percent in the latest poll, that’s down from the 78 percent who said the same thing last year. The number is unlikely to see a double-digit drop every year, but people are definitely getting used to the idea.

Self-Driving As A Spectrum

A big reason why the public is getting used to the idea is because more and more vehicles are coming with “driver assistance” features, features that use cameras and sensors to detect other cars and pedestrians, lines on the road, and even road signs to send alerts to the driver and even take limited control over the vehicle.

For instance, one driver assistance feature that’s quickly catching on is the forward collision warning with emergency braking. By using cameras and the same technology that’s in police radar guns, this feature can identify cars and pedestrians, determine whether the vehicle is moving towards them, and determine whether the object could collide with the vehicle. If a collision is about to happen, the car will warn the driver, and it can hit the brakes automatically to avoid or at least mitigate an accident.

Because of how useful that technology is, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety tests it as part of their crash rankings. And because of that, companies like Toyota are putting forward collision warnings in all their new cars. And because of that, more drivers are exposed to semi-self-driving features every year and are growing to trust the technology.

Driver Responsibility In A Self-Driving Car

Here’s one thing automakers love to make sure drivers know about self-driving features: no matter how many you have in your vehicle, the driver is still ultimately responsible for any accidents and collisions.

To that end, many driver assistance features are more limited or customizable than they could be. A lane keeping assist that nudges you back into the center of your lane is easy to override by turning the steering wheel, and it might not work at all unless it senses at least one hand on the wheel. Dynamic cruise control lets the driver set a follow distance so the car will speed up or slow down along with traffic, but you can set that distance to put you dangerously close to the vehicle ahead.

So How Self-Driving Will Self-Driving Cars Become?

It’s this shift in liability that makes completely self-driving cars unlikely to appear on American streets, at least in the near future. While the vast majority of accidents happen thanks to driver error, and while self-driving software will soon become safer than human drivers (if it isn’t already), creating and marketing a self-driving car with no driving controls transfers all liability for car accidents onto the manufacturers.

Instead, we’re more likely to see something like how commercial planes work today: the cars will practically drive themselves, but a driver still needs to sit at the controls and pay attention to the road in case the automatic systems fail. This way a driver can still be held liable for any accidents instead of the manufacturer.

So if you’re one of the 46 percent of American drivers who say you’d feel less safe sharing the road with a completely autonomous vehicle, good news: they’re unlikely to show up anytime soon, at least outside of the luxury market. Because as wary as you are, automakers are even more wary of accepting liability for the car crashes that will happen when their software fails.

Attorney Michael J Babboni

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