It's a fixture in science-fiction stories – cars, planes, and spaceships that pilot themselves. For nearly as long as the automobile has existed, it's been the dream of drivers to press a button, put their feet up, and relax while the car does the driving.
It seems that those ideas aren't sci-fi any more. A number of popular car manufacturers are nearly ready to release driver-assisted automobiles – the first step toward driverless cars. But an important question arises: Are automated automobiles even legal?
The answer, according to many in the field, is "it depends."
As it stands, there are only a few states that acknowledge self-driving cars in their legislation. These states include California, Nevada, Michigan, Florida, and the District of Columbia, where legislation was put in place to regulate the testing of automated vehicles.
However, the vast majority of remaining states do not have laws regulating driverless or hands-free automobiles. This leads to the debate: Is it legal or not? According to many in the field, it's technically not illegal. If there's no regulation stating self-driving cars are against the law, then it can't be defined as illegal.
Many states are considering how to approach automated driving-assist features. Some lawmakers are curious to see if there will be federal regulations that address driver-assisted cars. This seems unlikely as states are typically left to create their own laws regarding traffic, whereas the federal government enacts laws to regulate production and crash-test safety.
Another conundrum facing automated vehicle legislation, as pointed out by the NHTSA, is that there is a lack of data regarding the dangers of self-driving vehicles. Without evidence of risk, they can't take steps towards regulation.
Ultimately, until something happens, there's no precedent to form new laws. Some states have decided to push ahead of the curve, which means that certain vehicles with driver-assist functions can't be sold until the laws are clearly defined.
One thing is certain, lawmakers are interested in finding the perfect balance between laws that secure safety for drivers but don't stifle technological developments. If too many limitations are put in place, the self-driving car may never reach its full potential.
As these futuristic forms of technology continue to develop, we'll be certain to keep our eyes on how it affects drivers. Meanwhile, as always, if you find yourself the victim of an auto accident, contact us for a free consultation.