The death of a driver who was using a driverless automobile is causing great concern as the number of driverless cars reach the road in substantial numbers. Over the past year I have read story after story describing the coming day when driverless cars take over the roads. A fellow attorney and I were just discussing last week whether driverless cars would make the roads safer and would reduce the number and severity of car and truck crashes. Whether safer roads will come or not, it is imperative that car and technology companies make sure their products are safe. I hope drivers do not come to rely on driverless cars and continue to stay alert and careful while driving.
According to the news reports, the driver died because the cameras on the Tesla Model S failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor trailer from the sky and didn’t automatically brake to stop the car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will investigate how Tesla’s Autopilot system performed at the time of the crash.
Car companies are introducing adaptive cruise control, lane monitoring systems, automatic braking, and other features that are aimed at making driving more automated. I recently test drove new cars with my wife and found some of these features helpful. However, I agree with the large percentage of people that are skeptical and concerned that over-reliance on these features may make the roads more dangerous in the short term.
In a survey released by the University of Michigan, two-thirds of drivers said they are moderately concerned or very concerned about riding in a self-driving or driverless automobile. We all see times when technology malfunctions, whether it is our home computer or our smartphone. The technology in driverless cars must be designed in the safest way possible. Simply put, it could be the difference between life or death. Therefore, I urge all drivers that have these new features to be cautious and do not overly-rely on them to avoid car and truck wrecks.
Technology is always changing. Most of us are abreast of new gadgets that interest us and know exactly when they are planning to hit the market. We are eager to go buy the newest and greatest to try out the new features and see just how this new technology may make our lives a little easier. I think most of us would agree that if we knew we could buy a product that would enhance our quality of life somehow, that we would be willing to buy it and give it a try. However, when we speak of such advanced technology, such as cars braking on their own without any input from the driver, sensing when a driver crosses the center line and autocorrecting the vehicle to keep us in our lanes, this sounds almost too good to be true. And maybe it is. It reminds me of the Jetsons. Some of you may be too young to remember the cartoon, but the Jetsons had it made. They didn’t ever have fatal car wrecks, no one crossing the center line causing a head-on collision, no pedestrian accidents, no high-speed impact collisions, and I certainly never saw an episode where a car wreck attorney was called for any reason. It was a great cartoon. I wondered if in my lifetime we would be using flying cars. With technology evolving the way it is, maybe that is possible, but I would encourage anyone who is considering such technology to do their homework and know exactly what you are buying into. Safety on the roadways will always be OUR responsibility. Technology is wonderful, but it can only do so much. Stay alert and be safe.