Is There a Driver in that Car? Florida Leads Nation in Lax Driverless Car Laws
You’ve seen stories about driverless cars around the country.
The Department of Transportation issued guidelines for safety of passengers in driverless cars after a Florida driver, who relied on autopilot, crashed his Tesla into a tractor-trailer with fatal results.
Despite that setback, Florida lawmakers are eliminating roadblocks to the new technology with the state ridding itself of a requirement that self-driving cars be on our roads for testing purposes only.
Florida’s love with driverless cars began five years ago when Florida state senator, Jeff Brandes, invited two Google self-driving cars to Tallahassee. He announced it was an “education campaign to get people to understand that this is the future.”
Since then, the Florida legislature has passed HB 7027 that allows fully automatic vehicles on our state roads without a driver. Florida now allows anyone with a driver’s license to be behind the wheel of a self-driving car for any purpose, even if they are operating the car on autopilot, as long as they are capable of bringing it to a full stop.
The theory is that a vehicle’s occupant can relax and tend to business, like talk on the cellphone, rather than attend to the dreary drudgery of driving. Never mind that mass transit, trains and buses also allow a passenger to relax while putting fewer vehicles on our already crowded roads.
But that makes too much sense.
The first state to pass legislation generally becomes a model for the remainder of the country, so all eyes are on Florida, especially in the area of liability.
For example, who is responsible when a driverless car goes haywire — the driver or the technology?
Manufacturers such as Ford, Google, BMW, Volvo, among others, argue that the autonomous technology advances will reduce human-error that causes nearly 40,000 traffic deaths every year.
That remains to be seen, but there are indications consumers, injured by the driverless technology, may have to seek compensation from a common insurance pool rather than lay fault with a manufacturer.
Already, manufacturers want the government to preempt or prevent product liability claims from being filed after an accident with one of these vehicles. The theory is if there was federal premarket approval of the technology, tort claims against the automakers should not be allowed.
Not only does that shut the courthouse door to you and me but it relies on taxpayers to pick up the tab for injuries and deaths allowing manufacturers to escape any responsibility.
That’s a sweet deal for them, but very bad for the rest of us.