The Future is Here: Self-Driving Cars, New Technology and Product Liability Litigation

March 01, 2017

woman reading a magazine in a self-driving car

Every day we are seeing more new and exciting technology develop.  Sometimes, it is hard to believe what the next “new big thing” is, and I find myself in disbelief.  That is exactly how I feel when I see how close we are to a society relying on self-driving cars.  Self-driving cars?!  But here we are, on the verge of such technology.


Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a set of guidelines on the safety of self-driving cars, including recommendations for the development of this technology and regulating its use.  In doing so, the NHTSA noted that “[t]he self-driving car raises more possibilities and more questions than perhaps any other transportation innovation under present discussion.” [1] Tesla Motors Inc. already has a vehicle with an autopilot feature, though this is currently under scrutiny after an accident that occurred in May 2016.  States are now also now seeking to regulate the development and use of self-driving cars, with Michigan at the forefront introducing new legislation in December 2016.  As you can see, it is only a matter of time before this technology is universally used.


As new technology such as this develops, significant questions are raised about how to implement proper regulations.  It is uncharted territory that poses not only new sets of ethical and logistical questions, but undoubtedly has a significant impact on the legal field.  The role and accountability of the vehicle manufacturer and the role of the passenger will have to be explored in all circumstances, and the removal of the human factor from operating a vehicle will impact product liability litigation.  This may even become more complicated when looking at self-driving cars not just for personal use, but for many popular ride applications such as Uber and Lyft.


This is just one example of how the great technological strides we are taking will change and shape the legal field in the future.  As new technology develops, we are sure to see a shift in products liability law and the considerations at issue in each case.



Photo Credit: WikiMedia

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