Futuristic Transport Raises Current Questions

The U.S. Senate recently held hearings to consider the legal implications of the automated robot-driven cars being tested in three states — Nevada, California and Florida.

Wonder why they’re spending time and money on unlikely scenarios right out of Back to the Future and The Jetsons? The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predicts that 75 percent of cars on the road in 2040 will be self-driving. InsuranceQuotes.com put together this infographic pointing to other statistics that may surprise you about the car of the future. http://www.insurancequotes.com/self-driving-cars/
One of the models being tested is a modified Toyota Prius which includes these features to allow it to navigate public roads without a driver:
* A high-definition video camera mounted near the rearview mirror detects traffic lights and vehicles approaching from the sides.
* A LIDAR rotating sensor on the roof (like radar but using pulses of light rather than sound) scans a radius of 200 feet to create a dynamic 3D map of the environment, showing road edges, signs, guardrails and overpasses.
* Three radar sensors in the front bumper and one in the rear bumper measure distances to various obstacles and allow the system to reduce the car’s speed.
* A sensor mounted on the left rear wheel measures lateral movements and pinpoints the car’s position on the map.

The idea of roads filled with robocars sounds pretty far out, doesn’t it? But the fact is, automakers have been gradually adding active safety features for several years, including:
* Electronic stability control to help keep cars from skidding
* Active cruise control, which slows the vehicle to maintain a safe following distance
* Autonomous steering, which recognizes lane drift and guides the car back to the center of the lane
* Parallel parking assist systems
* Adaptive headlights.

Considering that more than 34,000 people were killed in car accidents last year, with human error the cause of more than 90 percent of them, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, it is clear that cars equipped with advanced technologies could save many lives. However, the cars of the future are creating thorny questions for policymakers today.

If a robotic car is involved in an accident, who’s at fault, man or machine?
Will a driver be responsible for infractions, such as running a red light, caused by a malfunction of the car’s sensors?
Are drowsy driving, texting and drinking behind the wheel likely to increase if drivers no longer need to be situationally aware?
And what about computer security and privacy concerns? According to a May 15 article in Columbia’s The State newspaper (http://www.thestate.com/2013/05/15/2773030/senate-considers-if-no-ones-behind.html), NHTSA has created a new division to focus on cybersecurity. NHTSA head, David Strickland, said the agency’s aim will be to “ensure that the driver cannot lose control and that the overall system cannot be corrupted to send faulty data..

Last year’s Santa Clara Law Review annual symposium drew legal scholars from around the country to discuss regulations and questions of insurance coverage and civil and criminal liability. “Technology is way ahead of the law,” said law professor Dorothy Glancy, who focuses on public transportation and privacy issues. “It’s going to be with us whether we think about these issues or not,” she said. “To think about the legal issues in advance – that’s a really good thing..

Yes, to plan for the future is a good thing, because the future really is now.