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Autonomous cars lead to questions of road safety

Cars driving themselves: it sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. But all around the world, car makers are taking steps to turn that dream into a reality. Nissan, Toyota, Audi, and even Google are hard at work creating the first generation of autonomous vehicles. Proponents say that when human drivers are taken out of the equation, safety will improve. Others, however, are uneasy with the thought of allowing humans to step back from the responsibility that comes with driving a car, and fear that without human intervention, faulty machinery could cause a car accident.

Car manufacturers are taking a number of different technological approaches towards autonomous driving, and each has a different philosophy. Toyota, for example, is particularly reserved. Executives there feel that assisted driving should enhance the experience for the human driver, rather than remove him or her from the picture.

Google, on the other hand, believes in replacing the human element completely. Their autonomous cars have racked up over 300,000 incident-free miles, including trips down San Francisco’s winding Lombard Street and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Given these startling advances in technology, it seems likely that self-driving cars may well become a part of our future. The legalities of such a situation, however, are less clear. Currently, only three states have laws that permit self-driving cars on their roads: Nevada, Florida and California. Obviously, more states will need to adopt new laws of the trend is going to grow.

States will also need to address the issue of liability. In a crash between normal cars, one driver is often found to be negligent or reckless in his or her operation of the vehicle. This driver will then be liable to compensate the other driver for medical bills, lost wages and other expenses related to the accident. With driverless cars, however, the issue is much less clear. Would the liability fall to the owner of the car, or the car’s manufacturer? Governments will need to decide upon this crucial issue in the years to come.

Source: Business Insider, “Driverless Cars Could Save Hundreds Of Thousands Of Lives,” Jan. 29, 2013

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