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The Dangers of Autonomous Vehicle Testing on Public Roads

The Dangers of Autonomous Vehicle Testing on Public RoadsWhen it comes to driving, we expect everyone to be in control of their vehicles: both hands on the wheel, foot on the appropriate pedal, and attention on the road in front of them. Yet, these reasonable assumptions are changing as autonomous vehicles begin to fill up our highways and public streets.

If these autonomous cars were fully tested and proven to be safe, we may be correct to adjust our assumptions – but the cars we’re seeing are not that. Many autonomous cars we see on the road are actually just in the process of testing their autonomy. This testing is not taking place on a closed course where only those involved in the testing might be at risk for harm. Instead, they are being tested on the public roads where unwitting drivers are put in danger should these vehicles not perform perfectly. No company appears to be more glib or less concerned with testing safety than Tesla.

How are autonomous vehicles allowed to test on public streets?

With its twelve accidents involving seventeen injuries and one death, why is Tesla allowed to test their autonomous vehicles on public roads? Would it not be safer for everyone if they tested their cars on an enclosed track? One would assume that there is some law in place that would protect the general public from this danger but there is not. There are no federal or state regulations against Tesla or any other companies – and there are many, according to the New York Times: about 108 – testing their autonomous vehicles on the public streets. So long as there is a person in the car ready to take over the controls, these companies that manufacture and produce autonomous cars can continue to test their vehicles where everyone else is driving unaware of the dangers the testing presents to them.

The debate over whether this is right and how safety regulations should be determined, is contentious. Per the New York Times, “on one side are safety advocates, who say autonomous driving features, like those that control speed, steering and braking, should be proved safer than drivers before they are allowed on public roads. On the other side are car and tech industry backers, who say those features cannot become safer than humans without unfettered testing in the real world.”

What are the challenges of testing autonomous vehicles?

The mere fact that we have discovered how to make self-driving cars is an impressive feat, but that does not mean these vehicles have no faults. Autonomous vehicles can be misled by certain landscapes or situations where a human driver would not be confused. Some of these common situations include:

  • Bridges: Autonomous vehicles often use buildings and certain environmental cues and the presence of buildings. The absence of these cues can pose a challenge for driverless vehicles. “The car’s computer system uses detailed mapping that the car compares to the actual surroundings. On long bridges, the lack of cues can frustrate the car’s ability to accurately navigate.”
  • Inclement weather conditions: Inclement weather such as heavy rain, snow, or fog can disturb the car’s sensors and cameras, therefore hindering the car’s ability to recognize its surroundings. If the road or ground is covered, this can also keep the car from recognizing critical lane markings.
  • Congested city driving: In the city, there are numerous elements that come into play such as traffic on congested streets combined with pedestrians and bicyclists weaving through the traffic. These factors can strain the autonomous vehicle’s systems. The tall buildings in the city can also interrupt the car’s necessary GPS signal.  
  • Multi-stop intersections: The safe navigation of a multi-stop intersection often relies on human interaction and cooperation. The computer of self-driving cars do not have the ability to recognize or offer a hand wave or similar physical cues from the other drivers at the intersection to complete a safe maneuver.

What can I do if I am hit by an autonomous car?

Numerous lawsuits have been filed against these companies stemming from crashes involving testing of autonomous vehicles. If you have been injured in or by one of these autonomous vehicles, then you may be able to pursue a claim for damages. The possible lawsuit will be determined by the causes of the crash you were involved in. For example, if there is a defect in the software or hardware of the vehicle, you may be able to file a product liability lawsuit. Car and vehicle manufacturers owe the duty of safety to the public by making sure the design and production of their vehicles meets all safety standards.

In Georgia, there are legal ways to hold manufacturers accountable for wrongdoing. As we have explained before, “because the manufacturer is in the best position to ensure that car parts are defect-free, Georgia imposes strict liability on any manufacturer, distributor, or vehicle seller when a car defect causes injury.” As such, the car manufacturer should be held responsible. Issues of liability are one of the many things that need to be addressed in safety regulations.

The future is exciting and it holds great promise for technology. That technology, however, needs testing that is both accurate and safe. Manufacturers should not be allowed to endanger people on the roadways. Contact the product liability attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP today. Call our Atlanta office at 404-998-8847, our Savannah office at 912-417-3774, or use our contact form to set up an appointment.

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