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Wednesday
Jan252017

“Way Mo” Autonomous Cars Coming Fast

Personal InjuryPersonal Injury Attorney

 

 

by Andrew L. Shapiro

(818) 907-3230

 

It’s a race to beat all races:  several car makers, including Ford, General Motors, Volvo, BMW and Tesla are promising fully autonomous vehicles within the next five years. Not far behind the pack, Google recently renamed its own autonomous contender the “Waymo”, according to Bloomberg Tech. And Nissan is big in Japan with plans to have commercial, driverless vehicles up and running on its home turf by 2020.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that 10 sites across the nation were chosen for the testing of artificially intelligent (AI) vehicles. Two of these are right here in California – at the Contra Costa Transportation Authority in Walnut Creek, and the San Diego Association of Governments.

So what does all of this mean for driver safety?

It’s still too early to tell. For now, the general public can rest assured that the DOT’s designated test sites are meant to be just that – test sites. Automakers running cars at these locations are expected to share test results and tech knowledge per a Federal Automated Vehicles Policy released in September.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx explained:

This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing and operations as they are developed, enabling the participants and the general public to learn at a faster rate and accelerating the pace of safe deployment. 

Autonomous Vehicle Safety

Last May a driver was killed in Florida when his autonomously driven Tesla crashed into a truck. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration though, recently concluded that Tesla was not at fault. NHTSA said driver-assist software for the vehicle performed “as designed”, and that drivers should still pay attention when behind the wheels of AI vehicles.

The feds investigated other AI crashes and found that many of these were because of “driver behavior factors”.

Overall, even the insurance industry is gearing up for safer highways and streets. Once autonomous vehicles really get rolling, the industry expects a decline in driver insurance premiums, though it also expects an increase in product liability revenue. The reason?

Drivers involved in crashes will sue each other less and less, and will instead turn to car makers to satisfy injury claims.

 

Andrew L. Shapiro is the Chair of our Personal Injury Practice Group.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Thursday
Feb112016

Mile Marker: Google Beginning to Clear Legal Hurdles for Self-Driving Cars (but many more ahead)

Personal InjuryPersonal Injury Attorney

 

 

by Andrew L. Shapiro

(818) 907-3230

 

Self-Driving-Cars

 

Can self-driving vehicles (SDVs) use the carpool lane? That may be a legal question for another day, as SDVs still have barricades to overcome before moving to the fast lane and becoming available commercially for consumers. 

But the Federal Government opened the door – by giving serious consideration to, and taking the first steps in expanding, the previously unambiguous term “driver” – to include the Artificial Intelligence (AI) operating Google’s Self-Driving System, along with human motor vehicle operators.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, or Administration) just responded to a November letter from Chris Urmson, Google’s Director of the company’s Self-Driving Car Project, which requested the interpretation of federal driving laws as they pertain to SDVs. Google hopes to make SDVs commercially available to the public by 2020, and that means making them compliant with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

The NHTSA did grant some interpretations, but remains hesitant on others, citing a need for further Google SDV testing and further legislation in the future.

One reason for the Administration’s caution is that most FMVSS were written for vehicles of the past century, when all cars had human drivers sitting in the front left of a vehicle, with access to, and control of, steering and braking systems. The laws weren’t written to accommodate AI drivers or cars.

But the NHTSA did manage to favorably interpret some of Google’s questions re SDVs. They include:

1. Self-Driving Systems are drivers, in terms of certain operations like using turn signals and hazard signals; making transmission shifts; idling; parking and accelerating. 

2. Driver seatbelts may not be necessary, since the NHTSA interprets “driver” as the SDS in the case of Google’s proposed vehicle design: 

“It is possible that the provision as specifically written is not necessary for safety as applied to Google’s vehicle design, but Google has not demonstrated that in its present interpretation request.  FMVSS No. 208 would need amendment to clarify how a vehicle design like Google’s might comply with it.  One safety concern is that a human occupant could sit in any DSP [designated seating position], and that therefore the non-wearing of a seat belt by any occupant could create a safety risk.”  

3. Questions re Electronic Stability Control Systems (ESC) need further review, because the FMVSS mandate specific performance requirements for ESC systems. Though the NHTSA agrees that a Google-designed SDS is in fact the actual driver, the Administration feels a need to determine in future: 

“…how to evaluate the SDS control of the steering inputs, and whether and how to modify test conditions and procedures to address more clearly the situation of a vehicle with steering controlled entirely by an AI driver, with no mechanism for the vehicle occupants to affect the steering.”

A Futuristic Legislative Highway for Driverless Cars

Artificially Intelligent Vehicles

Self-driving test vehicles already cruise the streets. However, California DMV rules – where Google operates most of its prototypes – require human, licensed drivers to be inside with access to steering, brake and gas pedals. They must monitor the SDV’s operations at all times, and be ready to take control should technology fail or other emergencies arise.

Google’s November letter to NHTSA expresses concern that human error will make their completely autonomous SDVs unsafe should the humans try to override artificial intelligence.

The Administration acknowledged this concern, paving the way for years of further extensive testing and monitoring of vehicles completely controlled by AI with no human override capabilities.

But the proverbial genie is out of the bottle – Federal Rules will have to be modified to keep up with and include SDVs. There is much work to be done on both sides of this issue before we will have an SDV in our own garages – a prospect that is both scary and exciting for some of us.

 

Andrew L. Shapiro is the Chair of our Personal Injury Practice Group

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Tuesday
Jan262016

On the Road: Safer Rental Cars

Injury Attorney Los AngelesAccident Attorney

by David B. Bobrosky

(818) 907-3254

 

A mind boggling number of cars are on the recall list for safety problems – including about 34 million American vehicles for defective Takata airbags alone. Additionally, last year was a record for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which levied nearly $300 million in fines against Takata, Honda, Chrysler and BMW, according to Car and Driver.

Defective Cars

Recalls and fines are all well and good for holding automakers and their suppliers accountable for safety but sometimes, it takes solid legislation to curb the defects that injure and kill drivers and their passengers. That may come with the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act.

The Safe Rental Car Act is named for two sisters driving north from Ojai to Santa Cruz in a rented PT Cruiser in 2004. While driving, the car swerved off California Highway 101, hit an oncoming 18-wheeler and then burst into flames.

Initially the rental company blamed bad driving, and even speculated the accident wasn’t an accident at all – that Raechel (the driver) committed suicide and killed her sister as well.  The truth however, is that there was a recall for PT Cruisers because of faulty power steering hoses, which potentially could lead to loss of steering and fires.

There were no laws prohibiting vehicle rental companies from continuing to loan out cars despite these dangerous recalls. In fact, an area manager for Enterprise (the company that rented the car to the Houck sisters) said that it was corporate policy to rent out unrepaired, recalled vehicles if no other cars were available.

Cally Houck, mother of Raechel and Jacqueline, spearheaded a campaign to put a stop to this policy, which she considers “corporate malfeasance”. Enterprise admitted liability and was ordered by a jury to pay the Houck parents $15 million in 2010. The company began supporting the Houck Bill shortly thereafter, and was soon followed by Hertz and Avis.

The Houck Bill: Corporate Roll Call

Since then, several organizations and corporations (including the American Car Rental Association, Honda and General Motors) eventually helped champion Houck’s cause.

On the other hand, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Automobile Dealers Association opposed the bill, citing less dangerous defects like mislabeled parts and other minor issues which may prohibit companies from getting their cars leased or sold.

Chrysler, maker of the PT Cruiser and company subject to some of those NHTSA fines mentioned above, was opposed to the Safe Rental Car Act.  

Car Recall

The bill also found opposition with car dealers, who feared a law that could pit large rental companies against consumers – who should the dealerships service first, given a finite number of parts and services available? Auto dealers also argued that they shouldn’t be treated like rental companies, as they only keep a few cars on hand as “loaner vehicles” when customers come in for service. 

Safer Cars: Where Do we Stand Now?

The Houck Safe Rental Car Act passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and was then signed by President Obama as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. It amended §30102(a) of title 49, U.S. Code. The law now affects (a) vehicles under 10,000 pounds, (b) rented without a driver for less than four months, (c) that are part of a fleet of 35 or more vehicles (most auto dealers providing “loaner” vehicles will be exempt from the law under this condition) used for rental purposes. 

  1. Rental companies will not be able to rent or sell vehicles once they receive notification of a recall approved by the NHTSA until the defect is remedied. 

  2. Companies must comply within 24 hours of notice, unless the company has more than 5,000 vehicles in service. In that case, vehicles must be grounded within 48 hours of notice. 

  3. A company may rent, but not sell or lease, recalled vehicles if the remedy is not immediately available and if the company takes action to eliminate the risk (i.e. the company may remove defective floor mats that may jam under gas and brake pedals, should replacement mats not be immediately available from the manufacturer). 

The Secretary of Transportation will submit a congressional report within a year of enactment of the Safe Rental Car Act, regarding the effectiveness of the amendments and findings of related studies.

This may not be the far-reaching safety bill that Cally Houck initially intended, but hopefully, it will help prevent or at least minimize the number of truly horrible accidents like the one that took her daughters’ lives, from occurring in the future.

David B. Bobrosky is a Shareholder in our Personal Injury Practice Group

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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