The SELF DRIVE Act – Could It Impact Your Practice?

self drive car

The SELF DRIVE Act has been a hot discussion topic lately. SELF DRIVE is an acronym for Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution. In September, the House passed the act, which moved the legislation to their colleagues in the Senate.

The Act has many important components, but most important is the clarification of the roles of the federal government and state governments. The regulation is similar to what we know now. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will regulate vehicle design, construction, and performance, as it does now. The states have the authority to regulate the human driver, including registration, insurance, and licensing.

The SELF DRIVE Act paves the way for more driverless cars to be on the road. When in effect, NHTSA would have the ability to grant Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) exemptions to manufacturers for more self-driving cars.

Safety On The Road

Safety is a major concern for lawmakers. An article from TheHill.com observes that, “SDC (self-driving cars) cannot text at the wheel or drink and drive. While on average there are currently 6 million accidents a year in the United States, under an era of SDC we could see a drop in accidents to 1.3 million accidents a year and a significant drop in accident related deaths from 33,000 a year to 11,300 a year. Case-by-case scenarios have shown even partial autopilot features can prevent individuals from dying on the road.”

In addition to driver safety, self-driving cars could serve more segments of the population. For example, elderly people who cannot drive could make it to their doctor’s appointments in areas where public transportation is scarce. Projections also show that rural areas will be served by self-driving cars.

Privacy Of Information

There are positives, but there are also some concerns, chief of which is the car owner’s privacy. These cars are driven by computers and they have access to where you work, and places you frequent, like your favorite restaurant. According to the SELF DRIVE Act, manufacturers will be required to have explicit privacy policies so consumers will be fully informed on the sharing of their information.

Potential Long-Term Impacts for Attorneys

For personal injury firms, especially those focused on motor vehicle accidents, if the projections are accurate and injuries decrease, this could potentially impact your case load. If accidents are down injuries will be too, and the need for your services may diminish. The long-term effect of this legislation, if passed, could be a change in practice area focus.  Other implications could be who is responsible in the event of an accident? What changes could we see in auto insurance? Will rates increase for self-driven cars? If a human driver is involved in a wreck with an autonomous one who will bear responsibility? No doubt there will be some very interesting legal issues for attorneys and the courts to sort out.

But, if you’re a consumer protection attorney, there could be an increase in cases. While manufacturers are required to have a strict privacy policy, there is the possibility of a data breach or a car owner being dissatisfied with a company’s handling of their personal information and turning to you for their case. If the computer malfunctions and causes a crash will the owner, manufacturer, or the company that built the computer be liable? Many new legal challenges could lie ahead for consumers, attorneys, and manufacturers.

If this law passes it would not only bring changes for attorneys but for all of us. Driving as we know it would be forever changed.