Technology changes much faster than laws can keep up. As a result, the role of technological advances in legal situations remains a murky topic. In the meantime, our artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques have become so intelligent that innovations such as autonomous vehicles are already on the road.
These technological advances have strong legal implications. For example, who is liable in the event of a traffic accident without a driver? All lawyers should understand how changes in technology will affect their work. Here we examine these technological advances, their implications, and the vigilance with which lawyers should approach the issue.
Technological advances and the future of transport
The new technologies that are changing the composition of our vehicles have no end. Artificial intelligence is the main reason for these developments. With the ability to automate tasks that normally require human insight, we enable improvements in everything from vehicle safety to fuel efficiency.
This technology takes many forms. Currently, AI powers all types of software and Internet of Things (IoT) devices that monitor, accumulate, and communicate with data points. From sensory devices in vehicles to fleet management dashboards, these innovations are changing the way we drive and, in turn, raising liability issues for all road users.
Tech absolutely has the potential to make our roads safer. However, roads are not the only thing that is adapting to new technology. Even research into traffic accident accidents can be significantly optimized with the help of machine learning systems for digitally scanning precedent and testimony records.
As these technologies advance rapidly, these are some of the devices and systems that legal professionals should pay special attention to:
- IoT-capable sensors for monitoring streets and traffic routes
- Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) technology for real-time data acquisition
- Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) to improve road safety
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning processes drive smart analytics
- Autonomous vehicles without human drivers
With technologies like these widely used in the fleet management industry today, we can expect liability issues to change and evolve. For example, ADAS Tech provides in-vehicle assistance through blind spot monitoring, collision avoidance systems, and more. But what happens when these systems fail or fail?
The impact of new technologies on liability in road accidents
In the legal profession, the impact of new technology on liability in traffic accidents raises many questions. Who is to blame for an accident with a driverless vehicle? Can you sue a computer system? How do you justify liability?
Given the low precedent and lack of consensus in this area, we can only examine what has happened so far in high-tech litigation. Two prominent cases may give us a better indication of the role that advanced technology will play in future road accident liability.
Trouble for Tesla
On May 7, 2016, a self-driving Tesla Model S collided with a trailer truck turning left. The car did not brake and could not see the white side of the trailer against a “brightly lit” sky. As a result, the Tesla driver lost his life. Tesla has claimed that the ultimate responsibility rests with the driver, who must acknowledge that self-driving is a test mode that still requires the hands of a human driver on the steering wheel.
In this case, Tesla was not held responsible for the accident. However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said a lack of “protective measures” in the Tesla vehicle contributed to the accident. However, the situation has a serious impact on liability.
Legal professionals need to closely monitor new and proposed regulations regarding autonomous vehicles and the sensory equipment that supports a degree of automation in vehicle efficiency. This and other incidents affecting Tesla have created a liability trend that ultimately falls on the driver. However, depending on the clarity of the functional use and the wording of the user agreement, liability may shift to the manufacturer, as is the case with defective airbags and tires.
In a recent incident, an Uber self-driving vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The trifecta of sensory equipment – radar, lidar and camera – that informed the functions of the vehicle could not determine the trajectory of the jaywalking pedestrian, and tragedy ensued. Like Tesla, Uber has not been held criminally responsible.
However, this did not fully relieve Uber of its civil liability. The company has settled a case with the victim’s family. In the meantime, the regulation of autonomous vehicles and autopilot functions are still being discussed.
Overall, we see a trend towards so-called “driverless” vehicles, which still require a dedicated and focused driver to avoid liability damage if something goes wrong. Without substantial evidence of neglect on the part of the manufacturer, legal challenges for vehicle technology are unlikely to be starters – at least as far as the criminal complaint is concerned.
And autonomous vehicle manufacturers have a vested interest in continuing to protect themselves. In their efforts, we’ve seen significant changes in everything from regulations to infrastructure shifts.
The legal implications of technology
Technology is a powerful tool. Recently, virtual systems and AI support have changed more than ever. As more autonomous and AI-powered vehicles hit our roads, new legal regulations and precedents will take shape. This could lead to changes in cities and highways, whose lanes, zones and streets are specially designed for autonomous vehicles. Intelligent vehicle manufacturers are likely to advocate these changes as they reduce the pressure of liability themselves.
In the meantime, technology is already playing a major forensic role in distracted driving cases. As more and more vehicles are equipped with sensory devices, more data from traffic accidents can be collected. For lawyers, this means new avenues of research, as well as emerging liability precedents, to stay up to date.