A fleet of four self-driving cars hit the roads of Pittsburgh on September 14th, 2016, available to only the most loyal Uber customers. Uber is placing two highly trained engineers in the front seats of their autonomous vehicles to manually take over should the car fail. Uber is focused first on mastering the roads of Pittsburgh. “If we really can master driving in Pittsburgh, then we feel strongly that we have a good chance of mastering it in most cities around the world,” the leader of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, Raffi Krikorian, said.
Many legal questions come with self-driving cars. In the United States, autonomous cars are currently governed at the state level. Pennsylvania has yet to pass any laws on self-driving cars, so Pittsburgh is a good place for Uber to test its new fleet. All you need to operate a self-driving car in Pennsylvania is the technology. An article by Alison Griswold and Mike Murphy argues that Uber is treading lightly by placing human safeguards in their autonomous vehicles. Griswold and Murphy point out that Uber still does not have an ethics board. Furthermore, Uber has repeatedly refused to say who would be held responsible in the event that a self-driving car caused an accident. Uber is trying to work the kinks out of its new technology before the law catches up with them, but regulations are coming.
Adrienne Lafrance of the Atlantic recently spoke to the co-chairs of a task force aimed at guiding self-driving car policies. Two bills related to testing and operating autonomous vehicles have already been proposed in Pennsylvania. New policies are challenging to develop for many reasons. Not only do they overlap with existing laws governing human drivers, but the technology is quickly changing and humans cannot predict all of the unforeseen consequences that will accompany autonomous vehicles. Some complain of the push for regulation being made by lawyers across the country. Many fail to understand that lawyers have historically been the watch dogs of consumer safety in free market societies. When Ford knowingly refused to recall defective, exploding Pintos, civil verdicts eventually changed Ford’s position.
The lawyers at Rosen, Louik, and Perry applaud and endorse technology that makes driving safer. Companies profiting from that technology must, however, remain financially responsible should there be individuals harmed by the learning curve. From motor vehicle accidents to product liability, lawyers have the best interests of American citizens in mind. Lawsuits and regulations are needed to protect the American public from autonomous vehicle errors that undoubtedly will occur.