Driverless Cars - It's the Future

We’ve seen them in the movies – cars that drive themselves. It’ll be great, simply tell your car where you want to go and put your feet up and relax while it takes you there. It’s the future apparently.

But in a busy time for news, what with Brexit, leadership campaigns and sport taking up so much airtime, a tragic story which might otherwise have received greater coverage has passed largely un noticed - the first known death caused by a self driving car.

On 7th May Joshua Brown was killed when his car apparently failed to distinguish between the bright sky and a white trailer crossing its path. The car attempted to drive at full speed under the trailer. A police report said the top of the vehicle “was torn off by the force of the collision”. The remains of the car passed under the truck’s trailer, veered off the road, and then crashed through two fences and into a telegraph pole. The car driver died at the scene.

According to one report the driver as watching a portableDVDplayer in the car when the accident occurred.

The accident is clearly a tragedy. The car manufactures said:

“This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles.”

Nonetheless, many thousands of claims arise from road traffic accidents each year - fortunately few fatal - and someone somewhere is likely to be held to blame.

The manufacturer emphasize that the software in the car concerned is in a ‘public beta phase’ and although it is getting better all the time, (as it learns from real life experience) it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert.

The reason for the company adopting this position is clear: it cannot afford to be held responsible for accidents caused by its vehicles, or it would be exposed to potentially huge claims - probably uninsurable.

You will see the same warning each time you turn on your satnav - a screen telling you that the responsibility for where you drive remains with you, even if you follow the satnav’s suggested route. But, you don’t let your satnav drive the car - at least not yet.

So, while the technology will undoubtedly improve and while driverless cars are probably the future, legal responsibility for those cars is inevitably going to remain with a human occupant - whichever one is designated driver.

The days of staggering drunkenly into your car and falling asleep in the back while it drives you home are nowhere in sight…