'All sorts of Implications'

Chewing on some questions raised by a world with ever more self-driving cars

December 7, 2014
nashville post

Autonomous cars are coming and look set to become a regular part of our lives more quickly than futurists had imagined even just a few years ago. The shift could bring with it a cultural leap as large as society’s transition in the early 20th century from horse-drawn carriages to cars.

Post Editor Geert De Lombaerde recently chatted with Robert Sartin and Bob Hust, members of Frost Brown Todd’s automotive industry group, about some of the implications of this shift.

How do you think we’ll react from a legal standpoint to the growth of autonomous cars?

Hust: There are people who think the federal government should step in and draw up a new set of rules. But I think our existing legal framework can handle it. Product liability law is fairly flexible in dealing with and adapting to new technologies.

Think back to the introduction of anti-lock braking systems: There were some recalls and some liability cases. Every time new technologies are introduced, there will be glitches and there will be lawsuits related to those glitches. I think it will be the same with autonomous vehicles.

Over time, adoption takes us toward a jetliner scenario. After a car accident, a manufacturer can always claim that the driver didn’t operate the vehicle properly. But with fully autonomous vehicles where the driver doesn’t need to do anything to operate the car, it will be more like flying in an airplane. There will be fewer such lawsuits, but the manufacturer will have fewer defenses.

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