Google and others have been working to make self-driving cars a reality for quite some time. Touting benefits like decreased commute times, drastically decreased road deaths and safer areas for pedestrians, it’s not hard to see why this push has been so forceful for the last few years. Unfortunately, self-driving tech is not without its hitches. For the moment, Google’s cars still have issues with precipitation and drive just a bit too cautiously, often not able to predict or compensate for humans on the road, who naturally drive imperfectly. People just can’t seem to stop crashing into the automated automobiles, causing debates about whether they are truly safe, whether they should be scaled back for more testing and even whether they should be taught to drive erratically and break traffic laws like their human counterparts.
That all said, the legal responsibility for any damages these cars may actually be found at fault for has historically been a murky area. The manufacturers, programmers, owner of the crashed car, humans inside and just about anybody else remotely related to the car or the fault may be implicated. Especially when two driverless cars give each other a smack, should such a thing happen, the scramble to find out who to sue will be excruciatingly chaotic, perhaps even aimless. Reaching as far as mapping companies, algorithm writers and even cities, states, townships and other municipalities responsible for providing maps and real-time information could be implicated. In this scenario, nobody really stands to come out on top. Nobody, that is, except for lawyers.
Current laws put the person responsible for the at-fault vehicle in the hot seat at the accident scene, but these laws fail to account for self-driving vehicles. In California, the laws state that somebody should always be ready to take the wheel, leaving Google quite disappointed. This may not end up being the standard everywhere, however, leaving a would-be driver who was updating their Facebook status potentially off the hook. Should things begin pointing to the companies responsible for the creation of the car or the systems, however, things get very lucrative very quickly. These companies will, obviously, have a bigger cash reserve than the average driver, meaning bigger payouts for accident victims and their lawyers. Law professor Bryant Smith even went as far as to say, “If you have to be hit by a car, then you should hope that you’re hit by an automated car…” Should the robot cars of the near future continue to only be near perfect, lawyers who stand ready to ride the wave of the liability revolution stand to make a killing.