Is the United States ready for driverless big rig trucks?

In case you’re wondering just how far off driverless trucks might be — they’re already here. The first self-driving truck hit the road on May 6, 2015, in Nevada, although the testing phase is expected to continue for a decade and a million miles before the technology is adopted nationwide.

Is a decade going to be long enough for the legal system to decide who is going to be responsible when a driverless vehicle is involved in an accident?

Since driverless trucks, just like their ordinary counterparts, can do significantly more damage than a driverless passenger car, that’s a question that’s going to be important in the coming years.

It’s generally anticipated that robotic trucks will significantly reduce the toll of accidents on the nation’s highways, since about 90 percent of those involving large trucks are the result of driver error. It’s significant to note that self-driving cars have already racked up 1.7 million miles and have only been involved in 11 accidents — all of which were caused by humans and not the computerized cars.

However, the issue of who will have to take liability for those accidents that do eventually occur due to computer error is a tricky one. Some legal experts think that the question of liability could delay the widespread use of driverless cars and trucks, while others say that the framework for the answer is already in existence.

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Those who feel that existing laws are sufficient say that plaintiffs will need to look toward product liability laws for appropriate compensation. Product liability laws would allow them to hold manufacturers responsible in three ways:

  • The failure to design a product that’s safe to use in reasonably foreseeable ways, like driverless technology that stops working well at night.
  • Defect designs, like brakes that don’t increase power properly when going downhill.
  • Manufacturing defects, like installing faulty software.

The big shift would be that plaintiffs would focus more on manufacturer liability, instead of owners. Many ordinary truck accidents already have some element of product liability involved, due to mechanical and design flaws in truck engines, steering columns, tires and more.

If you’re injured in an accident with a truck, consider talking to an attorney about what you should do to get fair compensation for your injuries.

Source: Futurism, “Automation is Taking Over One of the Most Popular Professions,” March 02, 2017