California Self-Driving Car Crash Causes Legal Concerns
General Motors is all set to become the first company to mass-produce driverless cars. However, a recent GM self-driving car crash with a San Francisco motorcyclist has spotlighted the apparent risks of self-driving cars and raised peculiar legal issues about assigning blame in accidents involving these autonomous automobiles.
Automotive analysts believe that accidents with standard vehicles are almost inevitable as the number of self-driving cars grows, and lawsuits will follow.
In this article:
- Lawsuit Against GM
- Challenges for Autonomous Vehicles
- NTSB Gets Involved After Tesla Autopilot Crash Near LA
- Highway Safety Advocates Urge to Go Slow on Autonomous Vehicles
Since last August, General Motors has deployed human backup drivers behind the wheel while testing its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco (as directed by the state.)
On January 22nd, the controversial General Motors (they received a bailout rather than going through the bankruptcy process like any small company would have to do if it was in financial trouble) was sued by the San Francisco commercial photographer Oscar Nilsson after a crash which took place with a self-driving Chevrolet Bolt on December 7th. The Bolt aborted an attempt to change the lane while in autonomous mode, leading to an accident with Nilsson riding a motorcycle.
Nilsson's lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in San Francisco, claimed he was riding behind the self-driving Bolt when the car suddenly changed lanes to the left. As he rode forward, the car with its backup driver veered back into his lane, knocking him down.
Nilsson's lawyer, Sergei Lemberg, has challenged the police report on the incident by the San Francisco Police Department, which blames Nilsson for passing the car on the right when it was not safe.
On January 23rd, Lemberg stated that he did not know what a police officer could tell "after" the incident occurred. He questioned whether it is fair to blame an innocent person for driving in his lane and getting hit.
Lemberg claims the police report supports the charge to hold GM responsible for the incident. The police report notes that after the Bolt estimated it could not make the lane change, it began to move back while Nilsson was passing on the right side. The collision occurred as the car's backup driver tried to take charge of the wheel and steer away.
While Lemberg demands that GM take responsibility, the automaker has offered a very different description of the accident, according to the crash report filed with the DMV in California. Although the company has acknowledged that the Bolt had aborted a lane change while in self-driving mode during the heavy traffic, it has disputed Nilsson's version.
GM claims that as the Bolt "re-centered itself" in its lane, Nilsson, who had been lane-splitting (riding between two lanes), moved into the center lane. According to GM, the motorcycle-riding Nilsson then "glanced the side of the car," wobbled, and fell. The company noted in an emailed statement that the police report had concluded that Nilsson had caused the accident.
The crash report filed by GM states that Nilsson was driving at 17 mph while the autonomous Bolt was traveling at 12 mph at the time of the collision. Following the collision, according to the report, Nilsson got up after falling and walked his motorcycle to the road's edge. He reported pain in his shoulder and was taken to receive medical aid.
In his lawsuit, Nilsson claimed that he sustained shoulder and neck injuries, which will require extended treatment, and that he had to proceed on disability leave. Nilsson has sought unspecified damages.
GM's primary focus is safety, developing and testing its autonomous driving technology. The company's "Cruise Anywhere" program has been running for employees since August, which permits them to utilize self-driving Cruise vehicles to be driven within San Francisco. It remains unclear if the Bolt involved in the accident was a participant in that program.
It is also unknown whether the vehicle in question was among the "third-generation" of self-driving cars, announced last fall by Kyle Vogt, the CEO of Cruise. Vogt had called these vehicles the first-ever mass-produced self-driving cars in the world. He said these autonomous cars would be included in the company's "Cruise Anywhere" program.Challenges for Autonomous Vehicles
This incident has highlighted the vulnerability of autonomous driving technology and raised peculiar issues. As self-driving cars cannot behave like human-driven vehicles, it could create challenges for investigators to determine who is at fault in an accident.
John Simpson, a critic of the rapid deployment of self-driving cars and a spokesperson for Consumer Watchdog, said that safety will remain a significant concern, and self-driving cars on the roads are likely to create all sorts of problems.
According to Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, automobile manufacturers operating self-driving cars are likely to settle accident-related lawsuits quickly when the technology seems to be at fault. However, they will fight with vigor if they believe the other vehicle's driver is at fault.
Smith says that there could be data available that could indicate fault or no fault. This data may include video recordings and driving information from the self-driving car, which would aid the crash investigators. Consumer Watchdog's Simpson says the incident should be disclosed publicly whenever an autonomous vehicle crashes.
GM's extensive road tests on self-driving vehicles in San Francisco underscore the company's focus on mass-producing these autonomous cars. Although Google had seized an early advantage in self-driving technology with a program that has now become a separate firm called Waymo, GM's automotive manufacturing capabilities and experience enabled it to catch up fast, as per a report by Navigant Research.
When accidents occur, legal challenges are bound to arise for self-driving car manufacturers competing to take the lead in a new market. California requires that self-driving car backup drivers should have a judicious driving record. Jessica Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the DMV, said that these drivers should also have successfully completed a test driver training program conducted by the car manufacturer.
Autonomous test vehicles could turn up practically anywhere on the roads of California. According to Gonzalez, carmakers with permits can take a test on any public roadway in the state, and they do not have to inform DMV which roadways they may be testing on.
GM and its Cruise subsidiary have had a permit to test self-driving cars in California since June 2015. According to the DMV records, the company has 300 test drivers and 110 vehicles approved for testing on California roads.NTSB gets Involved after Tesla Autopilot Crash near LA
On January 22nd, a Tesla Model S sedan in Autopilot mode had a rear-end collision with a fire-truck on a freeway close to Los Angeles. The incident triggered the interest of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is collecting details about the accident.
In an emailed statement, NTSB spokesperson Chris O'Neil said that the safety board has not decided whether to launch a formal investigation into this crash. The board only gets involved with a few highway accident investigations each year.
The Tesla driver involved in the crash said that he had engaged the car's autopilot driver-assist mechanism when it rear-ended a fire-truck going around 65 mph. The union for firefighters in Culver City, California, said that, fortunately, no injuries occurred.
Mercury News reported that the fire truck was parked at the side of the highway in an emergency lane, attending to another accident when the collision occurred. So this Tesla car was driving outside its lane, not even in a lane? Wow!
Tesla has issued a statement stressing that the vehicle's autopilot system is only meant to be used with a fully attentive driver. The carmaker said it is trying to educate drivers about the importance of keeping their hands attentively on the steering wheel and being ready to take over from autopilot mode at any time. The autopilot, which the company calls an advanced system for driver assistance, is not aimed at turning the car into an autonomous vehicle. Incredibly, it seems some people do not comprehend.
The NTSB has said before that the autopilot system of Tesla contributed to a fatal crash in 2016 in Florida. A Model S driver was killed in that incident after driving under a semi-trailer that the autopilot's sensors could not detect.
Last year, GM began fitting some of its Cadillac cars with a new Super Cruise system that enables the driver to go hands-free. The system uses a camera mounted on the top of the steering wheel to track the driver's head position and monitor whether the driver is focusing on the road. Now your car is watching you!Highway Safety Advocates Urge to Go Slow on Autonomous Vehicles
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a group promoting highway safety, is asking lawmakers to slow down the development of self-driving cars. The group has called upon federal officials and Congress to bolster driverless technology safety regulations. But it seems the industry is taking many precautions, according to many people.
Their action follows the results of a public opinion poll revealing that American people, regardless of geographic location, political preferences, or age, demand increased safeguards.
On January 12th, Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator, said in a conference call with the media that it is vital that the US DOT issues car safety standards for autonomous vehicles and implements a statutory mandate. According to Claybrook, the last thing people want is to watch DOT on the sidelines. At the same time, automotive manufacturers build and sell vehicles with new technologies without meeting the government's minimum requirements.
After watching the blockbuster Fast and Furious 8, this issue could even be more glaring in peoples' eyes since that movie had an intense remote wireless car hijacking scene with many cars involved.
The survey showed that 64 percent of drivers are concerned about sharing the road with autonomous cars. Nearly three in four respondents in the survey want the DOT to develop safety standards for the advanced new features that are a part of self-driving cars.
The phone survey involved 1,005 adult participants nationwide. Questions included in the survey ranged from assessing the respondents' comfort with sharing the roadways with autonomous vehicles to evaluating their opposition or support for regulations.
Driverless car development and testing are now on a fast track, with as many as 20 states permitting some testing. According to the California DMV, the state has allowed the testing of dozens of autonomous vehicles by 49 companies.
States such as Arizona have adopted an 'open for business' approach to self-driving technology. Waymo and Uber are actively testing these autonomous cars on public roads in the state.
Congress has, meanwhile, shown overwhelming support to pave the way for the rapid development of self-driving cars. At the same time, the US DOT has maintained a largely industry-friendly approach to developing and testing autonomous vehicles.
According to Shaun Kildare, a research director with the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the survey results show that people have serious concerns about the entry of autonomous vehicles and want the federal government to adopt a hands-on approach.
The states, on their part, have stressed the issue of safety around driverless cars. According to California DMV, the state has stepped in to develop safety protocols for these vehicles. A spokesperson for California DMV, Jessica Gonzalez, said that safety is one of the primary concerns while creating self-driving car regulations in the state. According to Gonzalez, vehicle safety regulations are completed federally, while self-driving vehicle regulations have been pushed to the state level. Until 2012, the feds were not prepared to work on them.
And because this is a state-by-state issue like the marijuana situation and so many other subjects such as fracking and so on.
However, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety say that varying state regulations will not bring industry safety across the board, and it is vital to establish broad federal guidelines. President emeritus of the group, Jackie Gillan, said that it is a vital issue that should be taken up at the federal level. If each state develops different reporting requirements, it may not provide for the comprehensive reporting requirements necessary in autonomous vehicles.
Though many others believe that the industry can govern itself. If these cars are unsafe, there will be a public backlash, and sales will be hurt. The carmakers have a solid incentive to be transparent and to respect all other drivers on the road, pedestrians, and so on.Sacramento Car Accident Lawyer
Suffering injuries in a car accident can be a devastating experience. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, please call our legal experts at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. We've assisted residents of Sacramento since 1982 to retrieve fair compensation for their personal injury and wrongful death claims.
Editor's Note: updated [cha 10.9.23] br ds [cs 2204]