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Is Driverless Transit Coming to Atlanta?

Companies like Tesla, Uber, and Google have been designing, building, and testing driverless cars – also called autonomous cars – for a while now. However, a new development may bring driverless technology into the business of mass transit in Atlanta.

Recently, the Alliance for Transportation Innovation held an event in Austell, Georgia that showed off a 12-passenger autonomous van. While this model only traveled at 8 miles per hour in a parking lot for the demonstration, this is a sign that driverless public transit is definitely on the horizon and may change the way people commute in and out of Atlanta. Specifically, the director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority said these driverless vehicles could fill in gaps in the existing public transportation system, such as taking passengers from bus stops to their final destinations.

Will this Technology Increase Traffic Safety?

According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA)2,135,092 individuals were killed in traffic-related accidents in 2015 alone. The large majority of those crashes happened because of human error.

Many experts believe that an influx of driverless vehicles on the roads will sharply decrease the number of traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths on our roadways by eliminating human decision making from the process. After all, you can board a driverless vehicle and be certain that you are not putting your life in the hands of someone who is fatigued, distracted, or impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Autonomous vehicles make decisions based on algorithms, sensors, and other advanced technology that takes into account potentially dangerous situations. However, as long as there is traffic, there will still be traffic collisions whether or not vehicles have human drivers.

It has been widely reported that in order to eventually pass regulations allowing for mass use of driverless vehicles in the U.S., all driveless vehicles will have to be equipped with the ability for the person sitting in the driver seat to disengage the driverless feature to take over control of the vehicle.  This ability will no doubt cause many to disengage the driverless feature frequently and thus bring back human error. 

We can foresee situations where drivers disengage the driverless feature when they are in a hurry to move through traffic faster. Or disengage the feature to go a different route.

Ultimately we are in favor of any efforts to reduce the number of injury wrecks in Atlanta and do believe that the driverless vehicle route is one way to go about potentially causing a significant decrease in the rate of collisions in our city.  Any solution is never going to reduce the rate to zero, however.  We Atlantans have seen that with our driverless trolly efforts that were delayed because the trolls kept getting into accidents.  

Who’s To Blame If Injured By A Driverless Vehicle?

We would be remiss as a car accident injury lawyers if we did not contemplate briefly how the widespread use of driverless vehicles on the roads in Atlanta would potential change the legal landscape for us in helping those injured in a vehicle accident. The industry would change how we look at liability for car wrecks.  

The short answer is it would turn almost every car accident injury claim into a product liability claim first and foremost. This is so because if the driverless feature was engaged at the time of the wreck and the injured driver is not at fault in anyway for causing the collision, then the driverless system and/or other parts of the vehicle caused the wreck. 

Some possibilities include:

  • The driverless vehicle manufacturer
  • The engineer of that particular driverless software
  • The company that owned the car
  • A person who was riding in the car for control and safety purposes

Manufacturer/Software Designer

In a driverless vehicle world, liability for a collision would first and foremost be focused on the designer of the driverless software and/or the manufacturer of the vehicle. The questions of liability would center around how the self-driving feature of the car or truck failed to avoid colliding with another vehicle.  

This means that motor vehicle collision cases will become very expensive to pursue.  Expensive experts knowledgeable about the driverless systems will have to be hired to prove how a design or installation of the system in the vehicle was negligently performed leading to the accident. 

Passenger Error

This is where it gets real interesting.  With self-driving vehicles, a driver becomes just a passenger in the vehicle along for the ride. Assuming these vehicles will always have a system in place to disengage the driverless feature to allow the passenger to take control, a new theory of negligence against the passenger with such ability comes into play. 

The question that will have to be looked into in these cases is whether the passenger became aware of the faulty driving of the computer system before the collision and therefore could have avoided the wreck had he or she disengaged the system and taken over the controls. This seems like it would be difficult to prove but you can imagine scenarios where it may be applicable. 

This then brings up the issue of whether passengers in a self-driving vehicle will still need to have auto insurance to protect themselves from such claims.  It would appear the answer would be yes, passengers would still need to have auto insurance if they are capable of driving these vehicles as well as driver’s licenses.  

Liability in these cases will clearly vary from case-to-case and highly skilled car accident lawyers knowledgeable about the these vehicles and the technology behind them will be needed to protect the injured and their families.  Certainly, the industry will be doing their research to ensure they can successfully help victims recover for their losses after a wreck involving a self-driving vehicle.

At the end of the day, we are hopeful that the advent of driverless vehicles will be one of the solutions to an growing problem in Atlanta. Driver error as the cause of motor vehicle accidents in Atlanta is on the rise.  The transportation industry believes it is a direct result of a large increase in the use of devices while driving.  Maybe driverless vehicles will help reduce fatalities and injuries on our roadways.  

Call our Atlanta office today at (770) 744-0890 for a free consultation.

Whether your crash was caused by a car, truck, driverless vehicle, bus driver, or anyone else, the experienced auto accident attorneys at Boling Rice, LLC can help you.

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