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Wednesday, 15 November 2017 00:00

On the first day of its launch, a self-driving bus got into an accident.

Written by Jonathan Druckman

An autonomous bus designed to shuttle passengers around the Las Vegas strip was launched with human passengers on board. However, the police indicated that a human driver of another vehicle may have been at fault in causing the accident.

On Wednesday, November 10, 2017, the bus was driving when it was involved in a collision with a delivery truck. The autonomous shuttle bus is allegedly capable of carrying up to 11 people and has the ability to communicate with traffic signals on the road. A passenger told KSNV station, “The shuttle just stayed still and we were like, 'Oh my gosh, it’s going to hit us, it’s going to hit us.' And then it hit us.” Some observers are asking if humans saw that the delivery truck was backing up and were able to communicate that fact, why wasn’t the self-driving bus able to?

Interestingly, the self-driving bus was not designed to operate in reverse. Passengers said the shuttle just stayed still as the truck backed up into it. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries from the accident. But as this technology develops, there will be complex legal questions that emerge. What happens if there is a glitch? Who would be liable? And how much liability would the software designers, bus owner, and hardware manufactures each face? The standards for negligence in tort law may be upended because of these new vehicles.

The city of Las Vegas has stated that it will continue to operate such autonomous buses in the downtown area. Executives at the company see this as a positive that they now have greater data to make future improvements. Although, most people would probably like the technology to be safe before human passengers step inside!

This incident comes just a day after the company, Waymo (a part of Google’s parent, Alphabet) announced that they would begin testing driverless vehicles on the road without a human operator in the vehicle. The latest step is taking place on the roads in Phoenix, Arizona. Typically, testing has been conducted with a person sitting in the driver’s seat ready to take the wheel if the technology fails to operate properly. Waymo announced that their Fiat Chrysler Pacifica will be the vehicle used in the fleet of driverless taxis hitting the road. Phoenix, Arizona has dry weather and this makes it easier for the cars to read traffic signals and other obstacles such as people and cars that are on the roadway. Programmers have allegedly experienced difficulty in designing these cars to operate in snow or rain.

In Pheonix, the passengers in the Waymo vehicles are actually members of the public who will use the ride-hailing app to summon the driverless vehicle right to their door. For now, a Waymo employee will be next to them in the back seat, but eventually Waymo hopes that the technology will be good enough for passengers to ride alone. The company has indicated that a stop button will remain in the car for passengers to use if the car fails to react to a dangerous situation. During this testing phase, the rides will be free, but eventually there are plans to start charging for rides. The impact that this technology will have on displacing taxi, uber/lyft, and truck drivers remains to be seen. Waymo has begun testing in six states and has not faced a targeted legal barrier to their vehicles.

The use of automated cars will present new challenges for lawyers who represent people injured in accidents. Therefore, it will be especially important for the injured to utilize the services of lawyers who are experienced in representing victims of car accidents. At Druckman & Hernandez, we have over 20 years of experience in representing the injured.

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