AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES: The Future Is Here

Last year, Connecticut joined a number of other states that have enacted laws to regulate autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving cars. The Connecticut law is designed to allow a limited number of municipalities to apply for permission to permit testing of fully autonomous vehicles within specifically designated areas of the municipality. Whether or not these self driving cars are a good thing remains to be seen; but one thing is for certain, good or bad they are coming. Like it or not, the technology of today resembles the science fiction of the past. We can only wonder what tomorrow’s new technological advances will bring. Perhaps our grandchildren will travel the skies like in Hanna Barbara’s 1962 television series “The Jetsons” which predicted a futuristic world set in 2062 in which a  fictional cartoon character, George Jetson, lived in a city in the sky and traveled around in flying cars.

With each new change that we embrace, we face new challenges, and the autonomous vehicle revolution is no different. As states scramble to decide how these vehicles are to be regulated, questions abound about legal liability when a self driving car is involved in an accident with resulting injuries or damages. To date, the few reported instances of injuries or death involving “autonomous vehicles” have resulted in lightning speed settlements, thus eschewing the need to litigate the legal liability issues that are sure to find their way into the courtrooms as more and more self driving cars take to the road. Indeed, Uber quickly settled with the family of a pedestrian struck and killed by an Uber self driving car in Tempe, Arizona less than two weeks after the incident on March 18, 2018. That settlement, like others involving self-driving cars is indicative of an industry keeping close reigns on their investment in the autonomous vehicle technology to avoid findings of legal liability which can swing open the floodgates of litigation as more self driving cars hit the roads and are involved in accidents at an increasing rate. As they forge their way into Connecticut roads we will surely begin to see such claims, with the obvious question of where does the responsibility for the accident rest?

The Connecticut statute, PA 17-69, is designed to test the waters. It requires an operator to be seated in the driver’s seat of a fully autonomous vehicle, and to be capable of taking immediate manual control of the vehicle. It further restricts operation on limited access highways, and incorporates significant other restrictions and reporting requirements, along with the establishment of a task force charged with evaluating, reporting on and making recommendations on how to best regulate autonomous vehicles through legislation. The task force’s final report is due no later than January 1, 2019, and I will continue to monitor and report through future blogs on where these self driving cars are headed. Stay tuned.

 

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