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Motor vehicle automation and the issue of liability, P.1

Previously, we looked briefly at the push to include automatic braking technology in new models of motor vehicles, and the promise this technology holds with respect to improving highway safety. This is true, of course, of automatic driving technology in general. The effort to make these technologies more available on the mass market is largely driven by the desire to cut out human error and thereby reduce motor vehicle accidents.

Although the reduction of human error in motor vehicle operation has potential to significantly improve highway safety, a mandatory scheme has yet to be worked out for addressing liability when accidents involving automatic driving technology do occur. This is an important issue that needs to be more fully addressed as high vehicle automation becomes mainstream. 

At present, states have different safety regulations and legal frameworks around highly automatic vehicles. The lack of uniformity—or lack of having addressed the issue at all—has the potential to create confusion and slow down the spread of these technologies. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did address the issue last year in some advisory guidance. This guidance addresses the design, testing, development, manufacture, and operation of highly automated vehicles, with the aim of setting the course for establishing a consistent body of laws and regulations for testing and operating highly automated vehicles.

Under the NHTSA’s guidance, states would retain their responsibility for motor vehicle licensing and registration, administration of motor vehicle inspections, establishment and enforcement of traffic laws, regulation of automobile insurance, and determining liability in motor vehicle accidents. Of particular importance to motor vehicle accident victims, of course, are the issues of liability and insurance.

In our next post, we’ll say a bit more about these issues in the context of highly automated vehicles, and the important role experienced personal injury legal counsel will continue to play as high automation becomes more and more common. 

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