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Perhaps no development presents the potential for a bigger change in the practice of personal injury law, than the advent of driverless cars. Autonomous Vehicles (AV) are not the stuff of science fiction anymore, and it’s our belief that within the next decade driverless vehicles will be commonplace, if not the predominant form of transportation. Companies such as Apple, Google, and Tesla, among many others, are already well into development and testing of such vehicles, with test vehicles on the road today.

The ride-sharing industry is also heavily involved in testing AVs for use in their services, and it’s not hard to imagine in the next several years, when requesting an Uber or Lyft vehicle, that you may be picked up by a car without a driver.

States are currently modifying existing driving law to allow for autonomous vehicles to use the roads and, in fact, Nevada is one of the leading states in that effort. As reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently, Dan Langford of the Nevada Center for Advanced Mobility cites a bill passed July 16, 2017, and signed by Governor Brian Sandoval, which makes testing and operating a fully driverless vehicle, legal in our state. He says: “The regulations around that legislation will be developed in the next six to twelve months.” He further explains that Nevada was the first state to pass autonomous vehicle legislation.

What Will Be the Effect of Autonomous Vehicles on the Legal System?

Many legal scholars are considering what the impact of AVs on liability law. In particular, once AV’s become the predominant form of transportation, will the number of accidents increase or decrease, and when an AV is involved in an accident, who will be the liable party? Currently, experts accept that 94 percent of car accidents are caused by human error. But when a computer is driving your car, who is responsible?

One of the foremost legal scholars considering such questions, Bryant W. Smith, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law, believes that the blame will shift from the negligent driver to the manufacturer of the vehicle and the software developers who designed the AV driving system. In his view, automobile accident injury claims involving AVs will become predominantly product liability claims, rather than suits against other drivers.

Smith states: “To prove that an automated driving system performed unreasonably, an injured plaintiff would likely need to show either that a human driver would have done better or that another, actual or theoretical, automated driving system would have done better.”

Smith believes that the three foremost current causes of Motor Vehicle Accidents (MVA) today, speeding, alcohol impairment, and distracted driving, will be minimized once AV’s are doing the driving. His conclusions are that in the new environment, “the automated driving industry will likely bear a bigger slice of a smaller pie of total crash costs.”

The Richard Harris Law Firm is Ready

Autonomous Vehicles will improve our quality of life as much as motorized vehicles did when they replaced the horse and carriage a century ago. The lawyers at the Richard Harris Law Firm are diligent to stay informed of changes to the legal environment and are well positioned to protect your rights as the landscape changes. If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, due to the negligence of another driver, call us to discuss your case, at (702) 444-4444.