Self-Driving Cars and Liability Issues

Joe: 106.7 WIZN. That’s Cheap Trick in “Surrender”. Heard Guns N’ Roses, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” before that. Joe Vega here with you on your Wednesday rocking ride home. Earlier, I was talking of the story that WCAX did about the self-driving cars, and I thought it raised some interesting legal questions. So, called my friend Ben Barry from Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. Welcome, Ben.

Ben: Joe, thanks for having me.

Joe: So, wanted to talk to you about…there’s this story on WCAX that they just did, and it involves basically the self-driving cars, the new automated features that these cars come with nowadays. There’s actually some video that they have in the story of people actually sleeping on the interstates as their car drives them down the road. It’s pretty scary, and there’s been some accidents. And I’m curious, this brings up a lot of, like, liability issues, right, in the law?

Ben: It does. I think that driver-assisted technology is developing. Right now, though, that technology does not absolve a driver from being responsible. There is nothing that I see currently that would put liability directly on the manufacturers. However, there are theories of law that could apply in certain scenarios that would potentially create liability for the technology companies and the manufacturing components of that technology. So, it’s a sort of new area. There are old theories of law that will apply, and it’s likely that litigation over time…we will see an increase in litigation for people in scenarios where they’re asleep at the wheel, this technology fails, and something bad happens. In that scenario, I think, it’s truly on the driver. But there may also be scenarios where the technology goes awry, and you have a conscious, active driver who’s unable to override that technology. In that scenario, I think, it’s a different type of liability analysis. I think it raises a whole host of issues. It’s just like any other new technology.

But for probably the analysis I would provide right now is that using cruise control, which is an assisted technology, is never a defense to an accident that you’ve caused. “I was using cruise control, and therefore, I’m not liable. There’s something wrong with my cruise control,” I think that’s a thin argument, and I think, again, as the technology develops, so will the nuanced arguments that will be made by attorneys when that technology fails and the circumstances in which it failed. But I think a rule of thumb right now is, as the driver of one of those vehicles, you need to stay alert, oriented, and in control of the vehicle. You cannot unreasonably rely on that technology to keep you safe.

Joe: Well, there you go, Ben Barry from Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. Hey, Ben, have a happy holiday.

Ben: Joe, same to you. Thanks for having me on.

Joe: You, of course, can call Ben at any time at 1-800-LAW-1010 or go online to I’m getting on outta here, turning things over to Mel Allen now, he’s got music from Aerosmith and Bad Company next.