Driving is one of the biggest wastes of time. Other than listening to the radio or a podcast, there’s little you can accomplish during your drive to work or on the way to your vacation destination. Since we’re generally obsessed with maximum productivity, it was only a matter of time before we solved this dilemma!
In the final days of 2014, Google unveiled a fully functional prototype of a self-driving car, and other manufacturers are on pace to introduce their own versions of this technology in the coming years.
Google’s prototype uses sensors on the roof, wheels and bumpers, artificial intelligence software, video cameras and data from Google Street View and Google Maps to steer itself to a destination inputted by its passenger. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predicts that “autonomous” cars will account for 75 percent of vehicle traffic by 2040. But before that happens, a few very important issues will need to be addressed!
Driverless Cars and the Legal System
Our legal system will need to address who’s liable if the “car” makes a mistake? Proponents of self-driving cars believe traffic accidents will be eliminated because human error and judgement will be removed from roadways. This thought has personal injury lawyers worried about the potential loss of business if too many people opt for self-driving automobiles.
We’re supposed to believe machines and computers never malfunction, yet history says otherwise. So what happens if a car has a bug or is given bad data? Or worse, is it possible for hackers to commandeer a self-driving vehicle and steer it off a cliff or into a crowd of pedestrians?
And when an accident is caused by a self-driving car, who will be liable? Is it the passenger who had nothing to do with steering the car? The manufacturer? Can a computer be fined and have its “license” suspended? Speaking of licenses, will owners of driverless cars need them? It’s not like you need a license to ride a bus to work.
That assumes these cars will be legal to operate. In the last several years, 17 states and Washington, D.C., have considered legislation authorizing self-driving cars, but only California, Florida, Nevada, and D.C. have enacted any form of law—and those only authorize vehicle testing.
International Law and Taxes
Allowing vehicles without drivers may violate the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, a set of international traffic laws that Congress ratified in 1950. Article 8 of the law states: Every vehicle or combination of vehicles proceeding as a unit shall have a driver.
It’s also possible that an emergence of autonomous cars will lead to higher taxes. How so?
Driver error is a major source of revenue for local governments in the form of traffic tickets. Assuming a driverless car can be programmed to obey all rules of the road, the result will be fewer moving violations and fewer $80 traffic tickets. How will municipalities replace this revenue, much of which is earmarked to law enforcement budgets?
So for all the convenience and theoretical safety offered by the autonomous car, like any new technology, it’s also going to bring with it a lot of headaches.