Autonomous vehicles may seem to be the stuff of science-fiction, but automakers are already looking at ways to make their vehicles at least partially autonomous. It could be easy to assume that self-driving cars would reduce traffic accidents as they would eliminate human error. However, there is no guarantee this would happen — after all, as it stands car crashes involving vehicles with certain automated features still occur in Eastern Montana and elsewhere in the United States.
This brings up the important question of liability. If a car is fully autonomous and it causes a motor vehicle accident, who would be liable? Generally, liability hinges on who was negligent — that is, the responsible party had a duty towards the victim, which was breached, which both actually and proximately caused the victim to suffer damages. Who would be considered negligent if an accident is caused by a fully autonomous vehicle? The driver? The manufacturer or designer of the vehicle? We are still waiting for legislation to be passed on the state and federal level that would address this situation.
Another traffic situation that could be addressed through the production and use of autonomous vehicles is drunk driving. Drunk drivers cause thousands of deaths every year in accidents that never would have happened if the drivers who caused them were sober. Currently, the options available to those who want to have a night out on the town without driving home drunk include riding with a designated driver, taking public transportation or hailing a taxi or ridesharing service. Could fully autonomous vehicles one day be added to this list? This remains to be seen, but according to some the advent of fully autonomous vehicles could be a way to reduce drunk driving accidents.
Ultimately, while some autonomous features such as lane-assist and collision prevention are already being offered on newer vehicles, we are a long way from seeing fully autonomous vehicles on our roadways. Issues of safety and liability when it comes to self-driving cars still exist. Until then, it is up to all drivers to uphold their duty of care to drive reasonably under the circumstances in order to reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents in Montana and across the nation.