As automation becomes more common, it is creating opportunities for distraction that could lead to an increase in motor vehicle accidents. Automated driving systems also create complex questions of liability when an accident occurs. As these new technologies hit the road, drivers need to be aware that they are ultimately responsible for the distractions and accidents that cause a motor vehicle accident.
Levels of Automation
Many forms of automation in vehicles are already in common use. These include Level 1 Driver Assistance systems such as steering control, cruise control, etc. that have become standard features over the past few decades. Level 2 Partial Assistance systems include steering, braking, and acceleration controls but require the driver to monitor and correct these systems.
Level 3 Conditional Automation systems require the driver to pay attention to the road and take over if necessary. These systems are designed to notify drivers when intervention is required. These are similar to Level 4 High-Automation systems which set routes, control speed, and braking, etc. These systems are still in their infancy, but like Level 5 Full Automation systems, they are expected to be ready within the next decade.
The Rise of Distractions
Telephones, televisions, browsing the internet, or chatting with friends are all common distractions that can lead to a motor vehicle accident. Drivers of autonomous vehicles may find themselves lured into a false sense of security while operating their vehicle. This can make them more prone to engaging these driving distractions and losing focus on the road. When this happens, they significantly increase their risk of having a motor vehicle accident that would otherwise have been preventable.
Technology is not Flawless
Our culture has developed an inherent trust in automated technology. However, technology is not flawed and there are many bugs in automated systems that can pop up and cause problems. Hardware malfunctions or software glitches can send a vehicle careening out of control down the road. When this happens, vehicle manufacturers, programmers, maintenance personnel, etc., may be liable for the accidents and injuries these problems cause.
However, even the driver would not be blameless as all current automated vehicle systems require the driver to be the backup to the technology. Thus, the driver remains responsible for ensuring the safe operation fo the vehicle they are driving even if they are assisted by an automated system.