Every motor vehicle accident occurs due to a unique series of circumstances and causes, from defective vehicles and parts to dangerous roadway designs that increase peril for drivers and passengers. Among every potential cause of car and truck accidents, driver error is the most likely factor, and thousands of Californians are needlessly injured or killed every year due to another person's mistakes or negligence.
For that reason alone, news that California is taking the lead along with several other states in allowing companies to test driverless cars on its streets and highways has been met with enthusiasm. The promise of autonomous vehicles also has implications for other transportation issues, including reduced road congestion and mobility for disabled and elderly people.
Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1298 in late September, approving a measure that allows certified autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads for testing purposes. The bill requires that all such vehicles be operated with a person seated in the driver's seat to monitor the vehicle's safe operation and assume control in the event of a technology failure or other emergency.
In passing SB 1298, California lawmakers have recognized that new technology using computers, sensors and integrated systems to automate car and truck operation offers significant potential benefits for highway safety and personal mobility, as well as major commercial benefits for individuals and businesses. By creating appropriate rules for allowing self-driving cars to operate in California, the state has encouraged future development within its borders of a technological breakthrough that is largely the brainchild of one of its best known companies, Google, Inc.
Autonomous vehicles are intended ultimately to operate without active physical control or oversight by human drivers. That means a foreseeable future when there would be no need for intoxicated drivers to get behind the wheel, a development that would have a positive impact on vehicle-related injury and fatality rates.
The rapid integration of GPS, radar and video technologies into safety-minded improvements has already led to collision avoidance systems such as electronic blind spot assistance, emergency braking systems, parking assistance, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings and other systems that translate data about vehicle position and nearby hazards to warn drivers.
A future where driver error is much less likely to cause car accidents is a clear benefit of the safety technology that SB 1298 promotes. While a host of other causes guarantee that car and truck accidents will never be completely eliminated, the rights of injury victims to pursue damages for technology errors, recklessness and other unexpected events ensures that they will not be left without legal remedies.