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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Is the Law Keeping Up with Technology

Technological advances are one of the most exciting and innovative aspects of our times.  Whether it be the new features on the latest Android or iPhone or high definition drones capturing memorable moments in the sky, advances in technology are happening at more and more rapid pace.  But can the law keep up with technology?

Drones are heavily regulated but these regulations are both not well known to the public and not always followed.  There have been reported personal injury claims associated with drones from defective drone equipment and drone operator negligence.  Sometimes it is not clear which was the cause of someone's injury (and considering how frequently drones are being used at large public events, the risk of injury is only getting higher and higher).  In such instances, it is not uncommon to have lawsuits involving both the drone manufacturer, the owner, and the operator of the drone.  However, while drone technology is rapidly evolving, the laws surrounding drones are only slowly catching up.  

Another area of legal concern involves the changes in automobile.  Uber has been working on flying automobiles.  Tesla and Uber (amongst) others have been working on developing safe and reliable self-driving cars.  However, these vehicles are hardly ready for market and when they are, it is unclear whether or not laws protecting the public will be in place.

In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Administration released a  six level classification system for autonomous cars.  The lowest level (level 0) means the driver remains completely in control, even if the automated system is issuing warnings to the driver.  The highest level (level 5) means that the vehicle completely drives itself and no human interaction is required.

So if there is an accident involving an autonomous car, who is at fault?  For autonomous cars  level 3 and below, it has been determined by the NHTA that, a driver is still responsible since they still clearly need to interact with the car in order to drive safely.  At level 2, the driver must keep his or her hands on the wheel at all times.

Unfortunately, questions of personal injury liability involving autonomous vehicles has already started playing out in the legal world.  Earlier this year, a pedestrian in Arizona was struck and killed by an autonomous car operated by Uber.  An investigation showed that the vehicle did not slow down when approaching the pedestrian.  Additionally, earlier this year, a autonomous vehicle operated by Tesla crashed and exploded, killing the driver of the vehicle.  An investigation showed that the driver in the Tesla was repeatedly told by the car’s system that he needed to keep his hands on the wheel.  In the later case, the vehicle instructed the driver that its system was just a driver assistance tool and did not replace the experience of an actual driver.  In such cases the law indicates that the driver is responsible for not only his or her own safety, but the safety of others.

The basic answer to the question of whether or not the law has kept up with technological advances is no.  Level 4 or level 5 cars have not yet been cleared to be put on public roads, but it is anticipated that as this happens liability will start to shift from the driver of the car to the manufacturer.   

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