Driverless cars—once an idea relegated to science fiction stories—may someday become the safer alternative to manually driven cars.
Yet, for many, the idea of using a driverless car is frightening. As CBS Baltimore explained, when a person’s laptop crashes or phone shuts down inexplicably, no one dies. But, if a driverless car’s computer were to malfunction, the results could be tragic.
The personal injury law implications for driverless cars is immense. If two driverless cars collide, should those who are injured in the auto accident sue the companies who manufactured the cars? Or, if the cars still have a manual override feature (allowing drivers to take over in the event of a malfunction), will individual negligence still play a role in these accidents? Many personal injury lawyers like James Wu Esq. with Injury Law Center are aware of the legal, philosophical, and moral questions that could arise in court when it comes to deciding who is at fault when driverless vehicles get into accidents.
Yet, cases involving driverless vehicles may not be something of the distant future. Recently, the Guardian reported about a near-miss accident involving two driverless cars on California roads. A self-driving Audi narrowly missed hitting one of Google’s driverless cars when the Google car cut in front of the Audi. The Audi had been about to make a lane change, but the computer aborted the lane change to prevent the accident.
Many in the news media have called the incident a “close call,” but both Google and Audi assert that the near miss shows that the cars can operate as they were designed to operate—even in complex driving situations. The companies call the media reports of the near-miss a misrepresentation of a normal interaction between two vehicles—one that can happen on the road anywhere at anytime.
Yet, the question remains. What would have happened had the cars collided? And, what if someone in the cars had been injured? Would the driver of the negligent computer have to pay the other driver’s personal injury bills? After all, drivers have access to a manual override and are still responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle. Or, would both drivers have the right to sue the negligent computer manufacturers for the computer’s inaction, or action?
Google has noted that there have been 11 small incidents and accidents involving driverless cars, but in these cases neither one car was responsible in the accident. According to the Atlantic, in all of the accidents involving driverless vehicles, the humans were always at fault. Yet, when an accident is unavoidable, and when both cars are driverless, what is a computer to do?
Google has been studying dangerous driving patterns for years, lane drifting and running red lights being among these. Many of these patterns would be eliminated by the comprehensive use of driverless vehicles. Many accidents occur at intersections, and often they take place due to human error. Self-driving cars would save thousands killed by distracted driving every year.

Despite the fact that human error is more likely to cause accidents than computer error, driverless cars have still remained the subject of much debate and criticism. Some argue that they could put cities at risk of terrorist plots that could injure or kill thousands.
While it will likely be many years before driverless cars are a frequent sight on highways, recent near-misses or “interactions” definitely offer a clear reminder that technology doesn’t always effect a perfect solution and that there will likely be some major legal implications involved in allowing driverless cars on the road. Will personal injury lawyers like James Wu with Injury Law Center in Baltimore find themselves litigating against computers? Not likely. But companies might find themselves accountable for accidents, if their computers fail.

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