Humans are making another evolutionary leap into the future. Once, the wheel was the innovation. The wheel was applied to things we could push or pull. It was later adapted so that animals could do the pushing and pulling for us. Eventually, we invented carriages that powered themselves–when the internal combustion engine enabled the ‘automobile.’ Since the early 1900’s, humans have learned to use cars, live among cars, walk alongside them, even giving up the roadway so that cars predominate (ever seen those old monochrome photos where people and horses populated downtown streets?).
We are accustomed to “roads” automatically meaning that cars have the right-of-way. We are also accustomed to those cars being piloted by fellow human beings. However, those presumptions are growing stale. As most of us have heard or directly encountered, ‘auto-pilot’ is now a feature on Tesla-manufactured vehicles. And many of us have also heard about some of the problems that have arisen in operating those vehicles, including tragic results. Those autopilot systems are designed to run with a human behind the wheel, hands braced to take over driving if the need arises.
But it is easy to imagine drivers who are not very engaged in the operation of the vehicle. In fact, the images from the Uber crash in Tempe, Arizona are so stark they do not require additional commentary. Seeing ‘safety’ drivers who are looking away from the roadway conjures up images of self-driving automatic vehicles careening around our streets, mowing down helpless pedestrians. And while that may feel like it is merely a dystopian phantasm, these vehicles are causing fatalities.
One of the controversies facing lawyers who represent injured occupants and pedestrians in this brave new automotive world is: who is liable in a crash? Up to now, evaluating legal responsibility has involved examining the drivers in a crash, the performance of their vehicles, the roadway environment, weather, lighting, traffic configuration. Now, there will be a new variable: did any of the vehicles have ‘autopilot’?
And this will raise all sorts of additional questions. Was it engaged at the time of the crash? Whose system was it? What were the warnings to the driver? Did the drivers have opportunities to correct errors or avoid hazards? When was autopilot engaged prior to the crash? Where was the drivers’ attention at and before the crash?
These will be new factors that your injury lawyer will have to consider. He or she will need to have the knowledge and resources to investigate the technological issues involved. And as states pass new Rules of the Road, they must remain abreast of those new rules.
At Coogan Gallagher, we are aware of these new challenges that will face our clients. We are educating ourselves about the new factors that will have to be evaluated when a client calls and reports an injury. We will be ready to answer your questions and discuss the issues in your case when you call us. When the time comes, call us so that we can help you.