New Car Safety Technologies: Panacea or Pandora’s Box? Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Where Gizmos Are Involved
Today, most motor vehicle accidents — car crashes, bus accidents, big rig semi truck crashes, etc. — result in personal injury lawsuits based upon claims of negligence against the driver whose mistake or failure caused the event. For instance, if a driver is texting while driving and that distraction causes an accident, then that driver is considered “negligent” under the law for her breach of duty to drive in a reasonable and prudent manner.
Since most of the time the circumstances surrounding these incidents involve a driver’s mistake, the goal for many years now has been to decrease the risk of human error in causing serious and fatal traffic accidents. Safety laws like setting speed limits and DUI blood alcohol statutes have been passed to try and make our roads safer.
Technology and Traffic Safety
Today, technology is advancing to automate driving to some degree, or to lessen the “human factor” in the driving of motor vehicles on American roads. As discussed in our prior post, new products are being presented in the marketplace that include “Smart Car Seats” that can monitor if a driver is getting drowsy and help keep them awake behind the wheel, and “Rear Collision Avoidance Devices” are available to provide drivers with a better view of what’s behind their vehicle to combat backover accidents.
Things have advanced to the point where forecasters are predicting driverless cars and automated semi trucks driving along our interstates. Proponents are touting these advances as major developments in keeping people safer on the roads, and lowering the numbers of car accidents and traffic deaths.
Which sounds wonderful, but is technology really going to guarantee safer roads and lower fatality rates? Some things to consider here:
1. Not every car and truck and SUV on the roads will be automated. There will still be human drivers using their vehicles on the roads. These advancements are not replacing humans behind every wheel of every vehicle anytime soon.
2. When some of these technologies malfunction, they may cause crashes that may not have otherwise happened. If the smart car seat malfunctions, for example, startling the driver or otherwise distracting her, then it might result in a crash that would not have occurred if the device wasn’t being used.
3. Driverless vehicles may be terrifying in their failures. Imagine a fully-loaded semi truck, automated, that malfunctions. Even if there is a human driver in the cab, that automated malfunction may result in huge crashes and big accidents, even more serious than some of the truck crashes that have happened in the past.
Legal Basis for Accident Claims Changes, But Technology Does Not Bar an Avenue for Justice
When these gizmos are involved in serious accidents, then the defendants in these situations are going to be quick to argue that there was no human mistake, or human negligence, involved. Assuming that they are correct, and that may or may not be accurate, there are still laws already on the books in Illinois and Indiana to protect victims of serious motor vehicle accidents and fatal crashes.
Future legal bases may involve arguing not only negligence on the part of a human, but also that there was a defective product involved in causing the crash. Product liability laws in Indiana and Illinois are longstanding, and can work here to help accident victims get justice.
These will be more complicated claims, of course. For one thing, the number of defendants will increase. The car maker may be involved here, as well as the owner of the vehicle and its operator. Manufacturers of various components in the vehicle may be involved here, too: for instance, the companies responsible for the car computers and software programs may be culpable for a traffic fatality.
This will mean more parties to a case, and more insurance companies being involved, and probably, lots of finger-pointing. A defective product case is more complex than some negligence cases, but the law is there, and stands ready to protect accident victims.
How Often Has Your Computer Crashed?
The reality is that as wonderful as the goal may be: to end traffic deaths and serious injuries on U.S. roads, we are a very long way from that utopia. Human error is a cause of car accidents, true. But consider this: how often has your computer crashed, or frozen, or otherwise malfunctioned? What about your smartphone, your e-reader, your tablet?
Computer error is just as real as human error. And all these new gizmos? They are extremely dependent upon their software to perform properly. We all know that software is vulnerable, we all experience software failures.
We have yet to see the tragedy of human beings dying in great numbers because of computer errors, as the statistics report for human error in traffic accidents today. But in all this forecasting of the future, it’s not hard to envision that these computer error accidents are going to happen with human tragedy as a result.
Bottom line: perhaps there will be less accidents on Indiana and Illinois roads in the future due to technological advances. However, if there are people who are seriously hurt and even wrongfully killed in an accident due to computer malfunction and defective products, then products liability laws are already established to help them find justice. Be careful out there!