Within the past decade, many driving services and car manufacturers have begun experimenting with self-driving cars. This was true for Uber in 2018, who began testing their fully autonomous vehicle by having a driver in the car in case the self-driving software failed. The first fatal car collision involving a fully autonomous car took place in 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona, killing a pedestrian on a bicycle. Defendant Vasquez, the woman monitoring the self-driving car, pleaded guilty to endangerment Friday, July 28, 2023. The key debate in this case is over the issue of responsibility; who is responsible for the accident, Uber’s self-driving cars, or Vasquez who was supposed to be supervising the autonomous car?
Prosecutors in this case provided evidence that Vasquez was watching a TV show on her personal cellphone as the car was driving. They argued that Vasquez’s job was to keep her eyes on the road in case the autonomous car failed for any reason. However, the defense believed that Uber should share some responsibility for its self-driving cars that malfunctioned causing the car to hit the pedestrian on the bicycle.
Although prosecutors chose not to prosecute Uber directly, there were still ramifications for the company following the death of the pedestrian. Governor Doug Ducey prohibited Uber from continuing testing with self-driving cars. Since this incident, there have been other accidents with fatalities and/or injuries from self-driving cars. The pressing question is how the courts will handle laws regarding autonomous cars and if their experimentation will be allowed to continue.
Unfortunately, there is not a clear legal establishment regarding the law of autonomous vehicles or the issue of responsibility when they crash. Currently in Ohio, autonomous vehicles are permitted for testing through the company DriveOhio, whose executive is appointed by the Governor. Additionally, all of the autonomous vehicles in question are required to have a designated operator to oversee and follow all Ohio traffic laws, should the autonomous system fail.
As for the future of self-driving cars in the U.S., many think of Tesla’s new auto-pilot features. As these cars continue to have these features and continue to face cases of injury or accident, there will be legal questions that may require asking the U.S. court to distinguish responsibility.
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