In the not so distant future, NC self driving cars will be beside you at the light escorting our elderly and teenage children to school. This post gives some background on self driving (robotic, autonomous and driver-less) cars and what will happen if you are involved in a car accident and injured by one.
Dreams of the self driving car have been around since the 1920s but the first true self sufficient cars were created in the 1980s by Mercedes Benz and Carnegie Mellon University (Wikipedia). Self driving cars combine three technologies: sensors, connectivity, and software/control algorithms. Many cars are already equipped with some of the technology that self driving cars are based on, like blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assistance, and forward collision warning. In addition to this equipment, radar, ultrasonics, and cameras are used according to The Franklin Institute.
Probably the best way to understand how self driving cars work is to look at SAE’s Level’s of Driving Automation. SAE classifies all cars in six levels, 0-5. Level 0-2 are basically cars as we know and drive today with cruise control and a few other bells and whistles. With Levels 3-5, the level of human interaction decreases and eventually ceases. At the highest level of automation, a steering wheel or pedals may not even be installed.
Any self-driving car discussion would be incomplete without mentioning Tesla. Tesla’s Autopilot enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane. But, current Autopilot features still require active driver supervision.
As people age, they can become scared of driving but still want to travel. According to AARP, driver-less cars can offer the elderly independence from the need to ask a family member for a ride. In addition, fewer car accidents, improved fuel efficiency (less C02 emissions), less traffic congestion and the ability to free up the travelers time are all possible advantages. Negatives include the expense of the vehicle, potential for technology to go wrong, and loss of privacy to name a few.
When are Self Driving Cars coming to NC?
NC, as well as many other states, enacted legislation regarding autonomous vehicles in June 2017. In 2018, The North Carolina Turnpike Authority was chosen to be a major test site for self-driving cars. The toll road from Research Triangle Park south to Holly Springs was designated as the testing site.
By the end of 2019, “Olli,” a form of public transportation built by a company called Local Motors, will be hitting North Carolina roads. Olli will only drive 10-15 miles per hour, transport 8-12 people and have a NC DOT driver on board to take over driving if necessary. While going to a local car lot and buying a self driving car is a while away, it may be closer than we imagine.
Who is responsible for an accident involving a NC Self-Driving Car?
While the consensus is that self driving cars will be safer than human drivers due to their inability to drive drunk, drive distracted, break the speed limit or fall asleep behind the wheel, nothing is fool proof. If a accident does happen, who is responsible? According to § 20-401 “the person in whose name the fully autonomous vehicle is registered is responsible for a moving violation.” However, if the accident was caused by a manufacturing defect, the manufacturer may also be held responsible.
Some other interesting highlights of this law are that the operator of an autonomous vehicle does not need a driver’s license; minors less than 12 year of age must be accompanied; in the case of an crash, the vehicle or owner must stop, call law enforcement and/or medical assistance and remain at the scene until vehicle registration and insurance information is attained (or when law enforcement allows departure).
While the thought of NC self driving cars is scary, I feel more afraid and sad when I think of the 40,000 people that died in vehicle accidents in 2017. Are self driving cars the way to reduce these devastating numbers? We can only hope so.