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How Will Self Driving Cars Affect Personal Injury Law?

Imagine driving on the road, rushing to your job to make it to an important last-minute meeting. You have barely taken a few sips of your coffee, shifting all of your focus to making it to the office. At the four-way intersection a few blocks from your destination, you breathe easily knowing you have finally made it. At the red light, you are waiting patiently, calmly sipping the coffee that has already gone from hot to lukewarm. The light stays red, as you look ahead with a clear sight of the building of your office. Then-all of sudden-CRASH.

After a few minutes of shock, your body adjusts to the fact you were just involved in a rear-end accident. As you open the car door and step out to inspect the damage, you walk over to the offending vehicle to collect information. As you approach the other vehicle you realize no one is driving the car.

For a moment you begin to wonder if maybe the driver fled. Slowly, you notice that the car does not have any pedals, no emergency brake handle, not even a steering wheel. You walk to the front of the car and you recognize a familiar little Apple logo on the hood of the car that you’ve seen in many other places. It finally dawns on you: you have just been rear-ended by Apple’s new consumer product, on its way to pick up the owner.
So, who’s at fault?

The mad geniuses at Apple have been hard at work this year on an Apple-branded self-driving car. Dominating most of the mobile devices and computer industries, Apple’s next target is the automobile. Leading this venture for Apple is former Ford engineer Steve Zadesky, who brought in former Mercedes Benz Chief R&D Engineer Johann Jungwirth. This past year, Apple began its secret “Project Titan” initiative, which is widely believed by many industry analysts to be Apple’s automobile project. Per Breitbart.com, Apple has recruited at least 60 former Tesla employees by offering $250,000 starting bonuses and 60% pay raises to join the company. It’s full-steam ahead for the Cupertino-based company, as they compete with Google’s own rumored self-driving automobile project.

As the industry prepares for these two tech giants to shift their attention to cars, many are speculating how the dynamics of liability laws will change around these driverless-machines. The question of who will accept liability in an accident will become far more complicated. One thought is that Apple and Google are banking that their autonomous, self-driving ultra-safe vehicles will minimize accidents, allowing the companies to accept all liability. Google has been testing one of their autonomous cars in Mountain View, California, where one vehicle has already logged 10,000 miles. “We have not cited any Google self-driving cars,” said Sergeant Saul Jaeger, the press information officer at the Mountain View Police Department, to The Atlantic. Google representatives have already made statements regarding liability. “What we’ve been saying to the folks in the DMV, even in public session, for unmanned vehicles, we think the ticket should go to the company,” said Ron Medford, safety director for Google’s self-driving car program, and the former deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, just how far are these companies willing to go when accepting liability? If Google or Apple were to sell 100,000 cars, should they really be legally responsible for every ticket or accident those vehicles are involved in? What company would ever take on that level of legal liability? Because these vehicles will automatically adhere to all traffic laws, including obeying speed limits and not crossing passing lines, the companies expect the number of accidents and lawsuits are likely to diminish. Companies believe that robots make for better drivers than humans, with ninety percent of today’s automobile accidents involving human error (per R&D Magazine). A potential downside to this route are costs. Bryant Walker Smith, professor of law and engineering at the Univ. of South Carolina in Columbia, said that as the burden of liability shifts more to manufacturers than consumers, “the manufacturers will have to pass those costs on to consumers.”

No matter what the pending regulations say, the laws will clear up as incidents begin to be heard in court. If there’s an accident that’s bad enough, no matter what the regulations say, it will wind up in court. This fascinating new area of law is still years away from becoming an issue, but the attorneys at Sackstein Sackstein & Lee, LLP will be here to protect you. We look forward to pioneering into this new realm of personal injury law in the coming decades.

The attorneys at Sackstein Sackstein & Lee, LLP will fight to protect your rights. To learn more about our firm, please contact us online or call us on our toll-free line at 516-248-2234 to be connected with one of our attorneys.