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Hands free driving technology: Who is liable in a crash?

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Whether you find driving in New York City an exhilarating experience or a chore, it is typically understood that you and other drivers are responsible for behaviors behind the wheel. However, when computers take over some of those tasks, accountability may not be as clear.

previous post noted that those who drive Tesla electric vehicles received software upgrades in October giving the cars some autonomous functions. By now, many owners have had an opportunity to road test these vehicles. Wired magazine reports that although the vehicle computers are designed with safety in mind, drivers can choose to use those same features to drive aggressively and recklessly.

If you were driving a car with an Autopilot function, you would be able to take your hands off the wheel at speeds over 18 miles per hour. It is not completely hands free because an alert sounds if you do not come in contact with the steering wheel at regular intervals of several seconds. The vehicle slows to a stop if there is no human interaction. The system keeps the car in its lane during Autopilot by following the lines on the road.

Even though there is a minimum speed set for the automatic function, there is apparently not a maximum speed, a fact that a team of three drivers noted as they traveled across the country. They reported driving consistently at 90 miles per hour on their trip from Redondo Beach, California to Manhattan. Autopilot was engaged for about 96 percent of the expedition.

Because traffic laws have not been adapted to compensate for this technology, you may wonder who would be liable in a crash. Reckless, careless or aggressive driving behaviors would still be the fault of the driver, of course. However, some believe that activities assisted by computer technology could implicate the manufacturer, as well. This information about new vehicle software and its potential use and abuse is provided for educational purposes and should not be considered legal advice.

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