The Five Most Important Questions About Self-Driving Cars in Texas

Driverless cars. Autonomous vehicles. Robot cars. Unmanned vehicles.

Call them what you want, but they are here and growing in numbers. The bigger question is, are we ready?

Our Austin personal injury attorney answers five of the most frequently asked questions about self-driving vehicles, as we keep a close eye on how the technology evolves and what it means to public safety.

Are Driverless Cars Legal in Texas?

Driverless cars have been legal in Texas since our legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 2205 with a 31-0 vote in 2017.

The Bill states that automated motor vehicles can legally use Texas highways, if they are insured and equipped with video recording equipment.

How Does Driverless Car Technology Work?

Each self-driving vehicle brand, including Tesla, Voyage, General Motors, and Volvo, has proprietary technology that operates its cars, and the technology is not fully shared with the outside world.

However, most of the vehicles operate using an onboard computer that collects data from an array of cameras, lasers, sensors, radars, and GPS technology that analyzes the vehicle’s surroundings to electronically read the road and determine the vehicle’s position.

This collected information, combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning, controls the electrically assisted steering to keep the car perfectly centered in its current lane while helping make decisions about its next actions.

Does Texas Need Driverless Vehicles?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94% of all vehicle collisions are caused by driver error.

The belief is, both fully and partially autonomous cars could improve that number substantially.

Our Texas legislators agree, stating the self-driving vehicles could reduce traffic congestion and reduce crash injuries and fatalities — particularly those caused by drunk driving or speeding.

The technology of self-driving vehicles may also provide new mobility options for disabled and elderly Texans who are currently dependent on others to drive.

Paul Hemmersbaugh, GM’s chief counsel and public policy director for transportation as a service, said in a statement “Self-driving vehicles have great potential to create a better, safer future for all.”

Can the Driver Retake Control of an Autonomous Vehicle?

Yes. At any time, the driver may resume control of a self-driving vehicle and may be prompted to do so by the technology, when road conditions, traffic, or other issues warn the driver to disengage the autopilot mode and take control of the vehicle.

This is where things become tricky, from an accident standpoint.

If the vehicle prompts the driver to retake control, but the warning goes unheeded, who is at fault when a crash occurs as a result?

Who is Liable for an Accident Caused by an Autonomous Vehicle?

Texas requires all drivers to carry a minimum liability insurance policy on their vehicles, in case of an at-fault accident.

This covers bodily injury or death and damage to the other auto or property of others.

When it is time to turn to the insurance company to handle the post-accident claim, an investigation is launched before any payments are made to the injured party.

Traditional concepts of negligence apply in these cases, and the investigation will reveal how the at-fault driver contributed to the accident, injuries, or fatality.

Negligence means liability, and liability translates into financial compensation.

This is typically where we come in, as insurance companies will do nearly anything they can to avoid paying for the damages their policyholder caused.

So, what happens when the vehicle was in control — not their insured driver — at the time of the crash?

Could the crash theoretically be a product liability case — focusing on the design and/or manufacture of the product — instead of driver negligence?

Can self-driving cars implicate the manufacturer of the vehicle more than its driver or operator?

What if the manufacturer is General Motors, but the technology was produced by Google?

These are all great questions, and part of a much larger legal debate that we will continue to have as the technology continues to roll out onto Texas roadways, so we can provide expert legal representation for people injured on Texas roadways should they be injured in a collision with a self-driving vehicle.

If you have questions about self-driving car collisions or to determine who is at fault for your vehicle accident, contact our skilled Austin personal injury attorneys at Glen Larson Law by calling (512) 883-0277 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation with our bilingual staff who is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure your legal rights are protected.  Call us today.  We stand ready.

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