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The Legal Implications of Self-Driving Cars in Florida

Self-driving cars might sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but Google announced on its blog last week that it plans to begin testing a fleet of its own two-seat self-driving cars later this summer, according to the Los Angeles Times.  The announcement raises interesting legal questions about the future of self-driving cars.

Google’s self-proclaimed goal, per the Los Angeles Times report, is to develop self-driving software that will help people who cannot drive and improve road safety. The cars will not have steering wheels, gas pedals or brake pedals. Each car will, however, have two seats with seatbelts, a start button, a stop button and a screen showing the route. Though the cars will be fully autonomous, the prototypes will include controls the test drivers can use to manually override the autonomous systems. Safety measures include sensors to eliminate blind spots and look for 200-plus yards in every direction, as well as a top speed of 25 miles per hour.

Other automakers have been incrementally testing driverless technology and working on developing self-driving cars, but Google’s announcement is especially notable because Google is forgoing that incremental approach in favor of creating a fully autonomous model.

According to a recent study by IHS Automotive, per the Orlando Sentinel, as many as 230,000 self-driving cars could be sold worldwide by 2025, and that number could grow to 11.8 million by 2035. Florida is currently one of only four states, plus the District of Columbia, that have passed laws that explicitly allow autonomous, self-driving vehicles on public roads; the others are California, Nevada and Michigan. These states also require that a licensed (and sober) human driver is in the driver’s seat at all times

For now, perhaps unsurprisingly, the technology seems to raise more questions than answers. The New York Times outlines some of these questions, the most obvious of which might be the question of who is responsible if something (big or small) goes wrong. What if a self-driving car gets a parking or traffic ticket, for example? In that case, the car’s owner would likely be responsible for paying the ticket, regardless of whether the fault lies with the owner or the car, suggests The New York Times. What if a self-driving car injures or kills someone in an auto accident? According to The New York Times, the car’s manufacturer would likely be responsible for civil penalties, but the issue becomes more complicated when it comes to criminal penalties, as a self-driving car cannot itself be charged with a crime.

Of course, the fact that self-driving cars record data and video could also help reconstruct accidents and ensure that blame is assigned properly, as The New York Times points out.

It is clear, then, that the law will have a lot of catching up to do in the near future as self-driving technology develops. The tide of public perception will also have to turn if self-driving cars are to become as popular as manufacturers are predicting. According to a recent Pew survey, 48 percent of respondents would like to ride in a self-driving car, while 50 percent of respondents would not. Further, only 3 percent of respondents would like to own a self-driving car.

Contact an Attorney for Help

Of course, for now, we are stuck riding among cars controlled by other human drivers, who are often negligent when on the road. If you have been injured by the reckless actions of another, feel free to contact our Reed & Reed who are Tampa area auto accident attorneys to discuss your case and advise you on the best course of action.

Reed & Reed, Attorneys at Law
Reed & Reed, Attorneys at Law, is located in Brandon, FL and serves clients in
and around Brandon, Tampa, Apollo Beach, Sydney, Gibsonton, Balm, Valrico, Wimauma, Sun City Center, Lithia, Ruskin, Durant, and Hillsborough County.

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