Thursday, August 14, 2014

Driverless cars would transform the legal profession, law enforcement

At the blog Above the Law, attorney Mark Hermann speculates on the future of the legal profession if and when driverless cars like the one being prototyped by Google ever become a large-scale reality. "Do you do DWI defense work?," he wrote. "Your practice area may not exist in ten years. Do you participate in automotive accident or product liability cases? The world may be about to shift under your feet."

Moreover, "Law enforcement (and the converse — criminality) may be transformed. Can driverless cars be hacked to make kidnapping much simpler? Or packed with explosives to be turned into self-guided bombs? Or simply used as high-speed getaways cars, which will permit the bad guys to shoot at the police while the car navigates its high-speed escape? (To avoid these problems, will we relinquish our right to privacy, permitting our cars to be monitored and our locations always known?)"

Then there's the revolution in liability law brought on by driverless cars:
Needless to say, driverless cars will transport product liability law into a brave new world. Let’s assume that driverless cars are remarkably safe: Instead of the 30,000+ people who now die annually in car accidents in the United States, suppose driverless cars result in a mere 10,000 deaths every year. And assume that the public accepts — as logic dictates, but emotion may not — that saving 20,000 lives per year is an improvement, so driverless cars should be endorsed. Who would bear the cost of those 10,000 fatal accidents? Vehicle owners? Or users? Or manufacturers?

Can we blame the mechanic who repaired a driverless car a few weeks before the crash? Or the hobbyist who got under the hood of his car and tinkered with it?
Grits had a pair of related posts last year wondering aloud how driverless cars might affect law enforcement and the criminal justice system generally. In particular, since most police interactions with the public occur at traffic stops, what will cops do with themselves once there are no more traffic scofflaws to pull over? The era of the pretext stop will have come to an end.

Already the key elements of driverless cars are being implemented in increments. I've seen TV ads for cars that parallel park themselves. According to the latest issue of Popular Mechanics presently sitting on my coffee table, "At speeds of up to 30 mph" the 2015 Subaru Legacy "automatically brakes if a collision is imminent." For the most part I think these changes will be positive, certainly as measured in driver safety. But there will be growing pains and, when the transformation takes place in earnest, it will be as disruptive as anything to law enforcement since the invention of the V-8 engine. You read it here first.


Jardinero1 said...

"Who would bear the cost of those 10,000 fatal accidents? Vehicle owners? Or users? Or manufacturers?" The vehicle owner would likely be the default operator of the vehicle for liability purposes.
No-fault insurance would likely see a resurgence as the liability form of choice for owners of driverless vehicles in a driverless world. Problem solved.

I am not sure that product liability laws would have to evolve that much. Manufacturers of autos already operate under a strict liability regime. How would you change that? Double strict liability? Double dog, strict liability? Trible, double dog strict liability? Liability doesn't get much more onerous than strict liability.

Jardinero1 said...

One other interesting thought is that without pretext stops and the winding down of the drug war, there won't be much use for cops at all. Then again there are always hookers and johns to go after, unless they legalize that too. I guess they can devote more resource to "preventing crime".

Denny Crane said...

Poor legislators would have to cough up a boat load of money with the lost of surcharge collections that go hospitals! Oh yeah and all the fines lost for the state. I can't wait for that car to drive me around!!

Writer said...

My interest is simply to be able to drive through school zones without having to put my phone down.

Eric Knight said...

Driverless cars. Evil entity hacking control systems, driving cars into each other, off cliffs, etc.

Not just bank account hacking, but life threatening actions.

Recipe for disaster. 100% against driverless cars.