Until the car can pay insurance, lets not get carried away

As Michigan becomes fourth state to allow the experimentation of driverless technology, it's good to keep things in perspective

December 30, 2013

Unless you can get a BMW to take the stand, I’m not sure how far this automated vehicle technology will go.

Some in the industry cannot contain their excitement, and claim by 2025 we could see cars driving themselves out on the American highway. Michigan recently became the fourth state to approve the experimenting of driverless cars on its streets.

The auto manufacturers should not have a problem meeting the 2025 deadline, but my problem centers on future accidents—even the common fender-benders.

If a driver does not have his hands on the wheel and his dashboard companion is making all the moves, and suddenly there is a collision, who is at fault? Is the automaker to blame? Is the human driver on the hook for any and all damages? This country seems to thrive on lawsuits, and automated vehicle technology will create quite the litigation circus. I’m assuming that once the driverless vehicle is purchased the new owner will have to sign pages and pages releasing the auto manufacturer of any blame if an accident does occur. However, would that be fair? If anything, the auto manufacturer should have enough confidence to stand behind its product. But, come on, this is America, so it’s all about covering your behind.

Then there is the effort by the U.S. DOT to curb distracted driving. The agency has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in its crusade to get people off the phone and away from the vanity mirror while in the car, and now we are saying in about 15 years it’s just not going to matter. Do you want to text on your phone? No problem, buy a driverless vehicle and hold a 20-minute conversation. Do you want to apply your makeup while out on the road? We got that covered. Don’t worry, your car will take you to where you want to go. Sure, we are moving forward with automated vehicle technology, but we also are taking a step backward.

Here is my preference: mild automated technology. If I am driving down Michigan Avenue, I might want to know if the Apple store is holding a huge sale. My car could tell me that. If I find myself in an emergency situation, I would like to be able to say a command and receive driving instructions or be connected by phone to police or fire.

Will you be able to ask your BMW questions? Sure, but I don’t think you want it to be cross-examined.

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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