Road safety advocates say that autonomous vehicles could one day virtually eliminate motor vehicle accidents in Michigan and around the country. While cars lacking steering wheels and pedals may still be several years away from dealer showrooms, the research being done by companies like Google, Tesla and Volvo is already preventing crashes and saving lives. Even modestly priced cars, SUVs and pickup trucks are now available with systems that watch blind spots, prevent skids and can actually brake or steer automatically in emergency situations, but some experts worry that having this kind of technology at their disposal could encourage drivers to act recklessly.
Most safety groups support autonomous vehicle technology and point out that seat belts were once subjected to the same kind of criticism. The annual death toll on the nation’s roads has soared in recent years due in large part to an epidemic of cellphone use and distracted driving, and studies suggest that even more road users would be losing their lives each year if accident avoidance systems had not been introduced.
However, there is evidence indicating that drivers may be overestimating the capabilities of this technology. Accidents involving vehicles equipped with Tesla’s autopilot feature, which is one of the most advanced autonomous systems currently available, have been blamed on drivers who took their hands off the steering wheel.
Tesla also uses satellites and tracking software to monitor their vehicles and identify human error when car accidents are blamed on autonomous technology, and experienced personal injury attorneys may use the data stored by vehicle electronics systems to establish negligence in court. Evidence revealing that defendants were ignoring speed limits or took no evasive action before crashing could be enough to convince juries that they acted recklessly.