Over the past few years, companies have been racing to develop self-driving cars. These automated cars are expected to be much safer than human-driven cars, as they would eliminate the human errors that contribute most to collisions, such as fatigue, distraction (as with texting), and intoxication. So far, much of the testing of driverless cars has supported this. In the vast majority of accidents involving automated cars, the accidents were caused by other human-driven cars. That’s not to say there are no problems with automated features, though: in a well-publicized incident, an issue referred to as the “handover problem” (referring to the difficulty people have in taking over complex tasks once their attention has started to wander) led to the tragic death of Joshua Brown while using the Autopilot feature of a Tesla Model S in May of 2016. Even so, such incidents are incredibly rare, and are expected to become even rarer as self-driving technology continues to advance.
In Texas, driverless cars may come sooner rather than later. Texas Senate Bill 2205, effective as of September 1, 2017, allows for the operation of automated vehicles on Texas highways provided that the vehicle is equipped with a recording device installed by the manufacturer, and complies with state and federal laws and safety standards. The vehicle must also be registered, titled, and insured, the same as any human-driven car. In many ways, laws regarding automated cars are the same as normal vehicles, though there are a couple major differences.
Major Differences Between Automated Car and Human-Driven Car Laws in Texas:
First, the law considers the automated driving system to be the licensed operator of the vehicle, and while the automated system is engaged, the law does not require a licensed human driver to operate the vehicle. Second, while the automated driving system is engaged, the owner of the vehicle is considered the operator of the vehicle for the purpose of enforcing traffic and motor vehicle laws, meaning that the owner of the vehicle will be held responsible for any violations of the law, regardless of whether or not the owner is in the vehicle at the time of the violation.
What the law doesn’t make clear is the question of liability in the event of an accident. While it is clear that the owner of the vehicle will be held accountable for any violation of traffic laws, nothing is said of who would be considered at fault in the case of an accident. If it’s handled the same way as traffic violations, liability will rest with the owner of the vehicle, although it may be hard to hold someone at fault for the actions of an automated system that they had no control over. For now, Texas law remains unclear on the issue.
Most major automakers, including Ford, Nissan, BMW, and Toyota, are expected to release autonomous vehicles by the early 2020s, and Google has announced plans to have its own driverless cars on the market by 2018. Ride-share and taxi services are also looking to automate their cars, with NuTonomy planning to provide self-driving taxi services in ten major cities round the world by 2020, and Uber planning to have a completely driverless fleet by 2030.
Steve Kuzmich is a Board Certified – Personal Injury Trial Lawyer by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. The Kuzmich Law Firms’ focus practice areas are auto and trucking accidents, wrongful death and other serious injuries, injuries caused by drunk drivers, injuries to children and the elderly, (slip and fall accidents) premises liability, and dog bite cases. For further information about personal injury litigation, contact us today at 972.434.1555.