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Looking forward to the safety benefits of self-driving cars

As uneventful as our days can occasionally feel, it’s good to remember that we live in exciting times. Moreover, the Bay Area and Silicon Valley are centers of technological innovation. As just one example, Google is actively testing and fine-tuning its fully automated vehicles, otherwise known as “driverless cars.”

In a recent Reuters article, journalist Paul Ingrassia wrote about his experience taking a test ride in one of Google’s prototypes. He noted that “the most remarkable thing about the drive was that it was utterly unremarkable.” The fact that fully-automated cars are nearly indistinguishable from cars with human drivers is the truly remarkable part.

The future of self-driving cars is still somewhat uncertain, especially the timeline of when such vehicles will come into widespread use. But according to most experts, one thing is clear: These vehicles will experience far fewer car accidents than human-operated cars do today.

But this raises an interesting legal question. When self-driving cars do cause an accident, who will be legally liable? It probably won’t be the vehicle’s occupants, because they will have no control over how the vehicle functions. This means that liable parties could include the auto manufacturer and the company responsible for the driving/navigation software.

Google is not the only entity working on self-driving cars, or even the only entity here in California. Researchers at Stanford University are also working on their own projects.

It may be some time before fully automated cars are a reality on U.S. roads. In addition to working out technical bugs, there are legislative matters to attend to as well. But when self-driving cars do come into widespread use, we can look forward to a much safer and more luxurious driving experience.

Source: Reuters, “Look, no hands! Test driving a Google car,” Paul Ingrassia, Aug. 17, 2014

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