The Legal Mess that Driverless Cars are Creating

Despite the fact that driverless cars will have huge positive impacts on our society (improved safety, enhanced mobility, more reliable travel times), there are still some significant legal questions that need to be addressed. Many insurance companies and state government agencies are struggling with the liability question (e.g., who is responsible if a driverless car gets into an accident?), but there are so many more legal questions to grapple with. In fact, driverless cars are calling many of our legal precedents into question. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I am identifying more and more questions:

  1. Can you get a DUI with a driverless car? This article suggests that current laws in Florida would hold the “driver” of a driverless car responsible.
  2. Should seat belts continue to be required if the driverless cars are going to be so much safer?
  3. Can young children travel by themselves in a driverless vehicle?
  4. When are driverless cars allowed to ignore road signs and markings? To avoid an accident? To keep traffic flowing? To allow cyclists and pedestrians to pass?

Do you have any other thoughts?

While many are stating that injury lawyers that focus on automobile accidents should be looking for another job, I think it’s safe to say there will still be plenty of legal activity resulting from the introduction of driverless vehicles!

About Lauren Isaac

I am the Manager of Transportation Sustainability at Parsons Brinckerhoff. Recently, I won the William Barclay Parsons fellowship for my research proposal to study how the United States government should respond to driverless cars. As I'm working on my research, I thought this blog would help to disseminate my findings and provide a forum for feedback.
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4 Responses to The Legal Mess that Driverless Cars are Creating

  1. Interesting questions. You are jumping all the way to level 5, which might be some time in the future. Are there legal implications as we move through the lower levels?

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  2. Lauren Isaac says:

    Great point and question. Frankly, the introduction of partial automation should start to challenge these legal issues enough that they trigger the discussions now. I think that’s a good thing so that the legal precedence is established by the time Level 5 is available.

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  3. Blair Schlecter says:

    Really interesting stuff. Another aspect of this is how the legal and policy issues will be handled in a part-autonomous, part-driver world. Are driverless cars required to yield to other cars with human drivers that are violating the law, such as rolling stops?

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  4. paddlepool says:

    All these questions are quite valid, and in western countries at least, such legal issues may be formidable hurdles to get over. I think that is one reason why other wealthy nation states such as China or in the Middle East, could feasibly get the jump ahead in the practical application of driverless vehicle cities. And that’s not even getting into the politics involved.

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