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Georgia Legislature Studies “Autonomous Vehicle Technology” – The Driverless Car

According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (“AJC”), Georgia lawmakers have created a House Study Committee on Autonomous Vehicle Technology.  The five-member committee is studying the issues surrounding autonomous vehicles and will publish a report of its findings and recommendations by December 31, 2014. Apparently, legislators in other states are also considering the same technology. But the advent of this new technology brings with it many unanswered questions and concerns. One of the most significant issues concerns liability for any car accidents involving an autonomous vehicle. An experienced injury attorney who handles car accident cases would be in a good position to assess the state of the law and how it will apply to any type of auto accident claim.

Three of the people who presented information at the first hearing of the Georgia House Study Committee wrote articles on topics related to the future driverless car. One of the authors suggests that there are many benefits to the new technology. Commutes will be more productive, there will be less congestion and improved air quality, and certain restricted drivers (such as the elderly and medically or physically disabled) will have new transportation choices. All of these benefits are said to have the potential to create economic benefits as well. This same author points out, however, that one of the most important issues concerns “liability” – namely, that in the event of a crash, does the inattentive driver retain liability, or is the manufacturer of the technology liable?

A third presenter delved deeper into the idea of liability in a car accident involving an autonomous car. He suggested possibly altering the rules of liability. The author pointed out that Georgia law currently incorporates a “negligence rule,” which is that the “hitting car” is not automatically responsible for any injuries resulting from a collision. In order to recover, the injured party must present evidence that the driver of the hitting car was negligent, and that the negligence resulted in damages. He further indicates that, with an autonomous car, it would be virtually impossible to find that the vehicle’s owner or operator was negligent. Under this scenario, the injured party would have no choice but to sue the seller and manufacturer of the driverless vehicle on product liability grounds, instead of negligence. One would allege some kind of a defect in the design or manufacturing of the vehicle.

Due to these concerns, the author suggests changing the liability law altogether to a “no fault” rule, whereby the operator or owner of an autonomous car would be automatically responsible for any damages caused by the car, eliminating the need to prove negligence. The author cites three benefits. The victims of car accidents involving a driverless car would save time and money recovering damages, manufacturers of such vehicles would not have to get involved in the court action, and it is “simple” and in sync with Georgia’s car insurance laws.

Despite the reported skepticism and many concerns articulated in the AJC article, the technology has been characterized as an “unstoppable” innovation. It is certainly an exciting technological development. Only time will tell whether the law can be altered to keep pace with the many types of vehicle accidents that take place every day on Atlanta roadways. An experienced auto accident attorney would surely be up to date with any and all changes in the law affecting such claims.

Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases, representing individuals who have been injured as a result of another person’s negligent driving in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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