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Legal Implications of Self-Driving Cars, Autonomous Driving Features

By The Husband and Wife Law Team on September 8, 2017

Technology is constantly improving and opening up newer and more exciting features for drivers. Many features improve the performance and safety of the car and increase the vehicle’s responsiveness. However, because these features are autonomous, they don’t always need input from drivers before they kick on and take over. Here are a few examples:

Adaptive Cruise Control

The very first autonomous feature was cruise control, and the technology has increased over the past several years to allow cars to adjust their speed based on what is in front of them. Some cars can even maintain a certain distance from other cars. The legal implication of this feature is that drivers might give the car too much autonomy and fail to correct it if the feature isn’t working properly. As drivers start to depend more and more on their cars to control speed and keep distance between other cars, they are less and less in control. If a crash does occur, an experienced attorney will have to figure out if it was caused by a manufacturing default or a driver error.

Auto Braking Systems

While some newer cars will alert drivers if they are approaching an object too quickly and need to brake, other cars brake for them. When these cars detect something in front of them and calculate an imminent collision with that object, they will apply the brakes in order to avoid the crash. However, if a crash does occur, the legal implications could be quite serious. Did the driver rely on the car too much? Was the driver distracted? Did the system fail? As technology increases, the legalities get a lot more complicated.


There are plenty of drivers who can’t stand parallel parking (or just can’t do it). Parking technology is constantly improving to the point where many cars can now park themselves. Some cars will do the steering but do require the driver to use the gas and brakes; others can manage the entire process. But what are the legal implications of hitting another car during this process? Again, this requires an experienced attorney with a knowledge of automated cars.

Fully-Autonomous Cars

While cars with full autopilot features aren’t available yet, they might be soon. Tesla requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, but the car knows to stay in its lane, brake to avoid front collisions, and uses cruise control to maintain a certain distance from other cars. The system will switch off under certain conditions and requires the driver to immediately take over. This kind of technology is not perfect and has already been involved in car accidents. As more and more cars adapt the autopilot features, we will likely see more collisions.

Lane Assist and Steering Assist

Distracted and drowsy drivers be warned: newer cars will now alert you that you aren’t paying attention and might need to pull over to rest. Some cars warn you with flashing lights, while other cars will pull you back toward your lane. The technology depends upon visible lines on the road, however, and can fail in certain cases. Imagine if your car pulls you into a lane that isn’t yours! The legal ramifications and possible injuries could be quite serious.

Road-Sign Recognition

If you don’t remember what the speed limit is or aren’t sure what hazards await on the curves ahead, your car might be able to remind you. Some cars can read the signs on the road and display the information on the dashboard or present it verbally. But again, what if this technology fails? What if your car is telling you the speed limit is 55 mph when it’s really 30? Drivers must remain attentive to the road and signs, and use the technology as a backup reminder.

While these features are exciting and are becoming more and more comprehensive (and available in more cars), drivers should remember that it is ultimately their responsibility to drive safely, avoid distracted driving, and pay attention to the road. Autonomous driving features shouldn’t create lazy and non-responsive drivers. At the same time, car manufacturers must be certain their products aren’t defective and don’t fail, because lives are depending on that.

Posted in: Auto Accident

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