The highway and Safety Administration has come up with stages for driverless cars.

In zero, is the driver does everything. You get to one and two, some functions are taken over by the vehicle. Two, is where a lot of vehicles are today. They may have a program that allows you to set a speed and the car will go that speed.

When you get to the third stage, there are more and more things where the car is helping, like telling you if you’re about to hit something, telling you if you’re going out of your lane. The fourth stage, where we’re not there yet, the car would be totally automatic, no help from the driver, within certain geographical areas. Five, is the ultimate step, and there the driverless car will go anywhere.

What happens today when there’s an automobile crash between two cars? The law is pretty easy, it looks at fault. Sometimes both cars are at fault and in a lot of states they have what’s called comparative fault, and the jury decides who’s the most at fault and damages are apportioned. So, if somebody is 90% at fault they pay 90% of the damages. The fault damage rules are very generous because they’re based on fault of an individual.

A person not only gets everything that they lost all their economic losses, their wages, their medical costs, they also get damages for something called “pain and suffering.” I would leave out a part of all this if I didn’t get to claims that are brought against automobile manufacturers. So, there’s a certain duty on the part of automobile manufacturers to protect passengers in event of a crash. So, if a car is hit from the back at 20 miles an hour, if a steering wheel doesn’t work, if a brake doesn’t work, the people who live or relatives of those who died, can bring a claim against the manufacturer.

Well what happens if there are autonomous vehicles. Will the rules change? Well, the fault of the driver suddenly becomes irrelevant, doesn’t it? In a true autonomous vehicle, the person in the vehicle will have no control over it, just the way they don’t over a- a bus if they’re sitting in it or a train if they’re sitting in it. So, responsibility then will have to be allocated some place. If it’s all thrust on the manufacturer, I’m not sure that’s a good idea with our current damage system.

If your liability is too high, too big, too hot, it’s going to have a negative effect, slowing down the process of producing these vehicles, chilling innovation. Some believe we just can keep the same old tort rules uh, based on fault, based on defect, but I believe there’s going to need to be change. Certainly, when you hit the so-called phase five, when autonomous vehicles occupy the majority of vehicles on the road.

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