Audi and Mercedes-Benz receive autonomous car driving permits in CA

Driver's permits were recently issued for autonomous vehicles in California, raising the question - what happens if one gets in an accident?

Autonomous vehicles are slowly becoming a reality, particularly in California. Recent reports by Auto News and Popular Mechanics note that at least two car manufacturers recently applied for and received driving permits to operate autonomous vehicles in the state. The two manufacturers, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, will now be able to take their testing out of private facilities and into the real world of public roadways.

Autonomous vehicles: a look at driving permits in California.

These permits include an array of requirements. Some of the more notable include:

  • Driver. The permit has very specific requirements about who can drive these vehicles. The document states that employees, contractors and others designated by the manufacturer operate the vehicle within state boundaries.
  • Mechanisms. The permit also requires that the autonomous vehicle have a device that allows the driver to start and stop the autonomous technology. Some options specifically mentioned include use of brake pedals, accelerator pedals or the steering wheel.
  • Data. The vehicle must also have a device that records sensor data at least 30 seconds prior to an accident. This data must be saved for a minimum of three years.

These permits attempt to reduce the risk of car accidents involving autonomous vehicles on the state's roadways while also balancing the benefits of moving forward with this technological advance.

Autonomous vehicles: the types of cars that will be on California's roadways.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, uses a system to classify the type of automation used within a vehicle. The car can range from a rating of zero, having no automation, to a rating of four, being fully automated.

It is important to note that vehicles are already on the nation's roadways with some level of automation. Cars that are designed to maintain a certain distance from the vehicles in front of them and cars that have "lane assist" technology are all using a form of automation. Popular Mechanics reports that the permits issued to these two manufacturers was for a Level 3 rating, meaning the cars can handle a variety of driving responsibility autonomously but are not fully autonomous.

Autonomous vehicles: when accidents happen.

Any vehicle is at risk for involvement in a car accident, but what happens when the accident involves a vehicle that is in an autonomous mode? Who is responsible? Is the computer to blame?

If these vehicles are able to store data as they are required to, the information could be used to help answer these questions. These accidents will likely lead to questions of negligence and design defects, both areas of law that are fairly well established. However, actually applying these concepts of law to autonomous vehicle accidents may be difficult. As a result, anyone injured in a car accident is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced car accident lawyer to review the case and work to better ensure all legal rights and any potential remedies are protected.

Keywords: car accident