A New Kind of Ride

If you’re old enough to remember the Saturday morning cartoon The Jetsons (yes, we’re old enough, too), then you surely dreamt of driving George’s hover car. Of course, the vehicle actually drove itself, which is what made it so attractive to us kids. No need to take the parents along on the drive!  Well, thanks to the like of Google, Mercedes, Audi, and GM, you just might want to hide your kids from your keys. And no, we didn’t get that backward.

Autonomous. Several automakers and Google have developed autonomous vehicles.  You may have heard of Ford’s self-parking car or Audi’s Mobileye, which can identify and adjust speeds in a lane of traffic and stop or slow when necessary. Google, however, has completely automated Lexus and Toyota Prius vehicles, which have already self-commuted over 400,000 miles — no human necessary. These driverless cars can merge on to freeways, drive safely through intersections, make left and right turns, and basically do anything a human can do, only better.

State Tags.  States like Nevada, Florida, and California have emerged as leaders for this fast-approaching technology, enacting laws that legalize driverless vehicles. Nine other state legislatures have pending legislation governing self-driving vehicles, but most, including Arizona H.B. 2167, have been stalled in committee. In May, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a policy statement classifying five levels of autonomous vehicles and announcing a four-year NHTSA research project on how to use automation safely. Manufacturers hope national regulations governing these vehicles emerge quickly to avoid variations in regulations from state to state.

Liability. While you might enjoy drinking coffee and catching up on e-mail while your car serves as chauffer and valet, lawyers are instinctively concerned. If you aren’t actually driving your car, are you still liable for an accident?  Is the vehicle manufacturer or the technology designer? Are you breaking the law if you’re intoxicated, but not actually driving?  And, can your automated vehicle really take your kid out for a joy ride?

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