August 10, 2016 Articles

Pump the Brakes: Driverless Cars and Assignment of Fault

By Bojan Manojlovic

New automobile technology has become a great assistant. It gives us an extra set of eyes as we back out of the driveway, keeps us in our lanes if we happen to swerve, and warns us of other cars in our blind spots. In an increasingly automated world, it is no surprise that the prospect of completely driverless cars is eagerly awaited. Instead of mindlessly sitting in traffic, we could be reading the newspaper or preparing for an 8 a.m. meeting; parents dream of not having to rush out of work to pick up the kids from karate practice; and the elderly envision the freedom to go to the grocery store without having to depend on others. While there are many benefits of driverless cars, there are still risks, as in the recent case of the Tesla semi-autonomous car that allegedly failed to brake and led to the driver’s death. 

Driverless cars use supercomputers to function. For instance, GPS is built into driverless cars and allows the car to determine the route without manual assistance from the driver. Because driverless cars will need to operate in a dynamic world, a second system of radars, cameras, lasers, and sensors supplement GPS data with real-time information, such as presence of other objects or road conditions. A third system translates GPS data, data from radar, and other data into actions like steering, turning, accelerating, braking, while making thousands of other decisions per minute. John Patrick Pullen, “You Asked: How Do Driverless Cars Work?,” Time, Feb. 24, 2015. The supercomputer is, by design, meant to be perfect. It will obey all rules, adapt to stimuli quickly, and make only rational decisions. Sounds perfect, right? 

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