A future with fewer traffic accidents? A look at driverless cars, safety and liability

November 8, 2017 | 7:00 am


The U.S. government recently released new federal guidance for automated driving systems that officials say has the potential to change the way we travel. But what does that mean to you, the everyday driver and passenger of motor vehicles?

The answer comes down to safety.

“The safe deployment of  automated vehicle technologies means we can look forward to a future with fewer traffic fatalities and increased mobility for all Americans,” according to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

As Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David K. Cohn sees it, this is great news for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and others on our roadways. The Bakersfield-based accident and injury law firm each year represents hundreds of innocent victims of motor vehicle crashes where human error is the primary cause.

That guidance report, called “Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety 2.0,” calls for industry, state and local governments, safety and mobility advocates and the public to lay the path for the deployment of automated vehicles and technologies. It can be accessed and read here.

In fact, the California Department of Motor Vehicles recently unveiled a timeline for when driverless cars may begin appearing, as well as a new set of streamlined regulations. In short, test vehicles could be on California roads and highways by June 2018, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Currently, California rules require a human driver behind the wheel even when fully autonomous cars are being tested. Driverless cars already are operating in Arizona, Florida and other states that have looser rules than California, or no specific driverless regulations at all, according to L.A. Times.

DMV officials are trying to balance safety with technology development, and safety experts believe that robot cars will prove safer than human drivers.

According to Car and Driver, removing the possibility of fatigue or alcohol impairment in a driver alone knocks 45.5 percent off the fatality rate in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also declared that a driverless-­vehicle fleet, should at a minimum cut in half the current toll of roughly 40,200 deaths annually.

The federal government will continue to set safety standards for automobiles, while the state’s role is to make sure vehicles traveling on state highways conform to federal standards, the DMV stated.

Already, some vehicles are available with autonomous features.

Available to the public for purchase, Tesla’s Model S and Model X are stocked with eight surround cameras, ensuring a full 360 degrees of visibility. Enhanced autopilot allows the self-driving car to match speed to surrounding traffic conditions and allows for multiple lane changes.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., similarly developed an autonomous car, Waymo, with its name deriving for the company’s mission to create “a new way forward in mobility.” Alphabet describes Waymo as “a self-driving tech company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.”

According to Forbes, of the 35,000 car crash fatalities in 2015, 94 percent were due to human error, with almost 40 percent of the fatalities resulting from driving under the influence.

While autonomous cars would drastically decrease the number of accidents due to the fault of the driver, car companies would face great liability from the number of accidents due to the fault of the automobiles, according to Forbes. In the event of a car accident, if the self-driving car is at fault, the automobile company would face the repercussions of the incident and accept liability. Autonomous cars could drastically increase in price in order to cover liability costs, but car insurance premiums could substantially decrease because there would be fewer accidents.

For Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which helps victims of car accidents and other motor vehicle accidents, fewer accidents equals fewer injuries and deaths. In that case, the future is bright.

— By Alyssa Wood for Chain | Cohn | Stiles 

———

If you or someone you know is injured in an motor vehicle accident at the fault of someone else, please call Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com. For work injuries, you can also visit bakersfieldwclawyers.com.

New Year, new laws in California for safer streets

December 28, 2016 | 11:51 am


In California, the New Year also means new laws.

And for 2017, several new transportation-related laws, and changes to existing laws, are taking effect starting Jan. 1. Many of them are aimed to keep drivers safer on our streets, including addressing the use cell phones in cars, child safety seats, and motorcycle lane splitting.

The accident and injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles wanted to share some of these changes ahead of the New Year. Learn a little more about them below here, courtesy of the California Department of Motor Vehicles:

Use of Electronic Wireless Devices (AB 1785): Driving a motor vehicle while holding and operating a cellphone will be prohibited, unless the device is mounted on a vehicle’s windshield or is affixed to a vehicle’s dashboard or center console where it does not block the driver’s view of the road. According to the Sacramento Bee, “the law is designed to stop people from holding their phones for a variety of uses that have become popular in recent years, including checking and posting on Facebook, using Snapchat, scrolling through Spotify or Pandora playlists, typing addresses into the phone’s mapping system, or making videos and taking photos.”

A recent California Office of Traffic Safety study found that one out of eight drivers pays as much attention to his or her smartphone as on the road. Distracted driving accounts for some 80 percent of crashes.

Child Safety Seats (AB 53): This law requires a parent, legal guardian, or the driver of a motor vehicle to properly secure a child who is younger than 2 years of age in an appropriate rear-facing child passenger restraint system, unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds or is 40 or more inches in height.

Motorcycle Lane Splitting (AB 51): This law defines “lane splitting” as driving a two-wheeled motorcycle between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane. The law authorizes the California Highway Patrol to develop educational guidelines on lane splitting to help ensure the safety of all motorists. CHP would have to consult with safety agencies and organizations to craft the guidelines for motorcycle lane splitting.

DUI ‘Ignition’ Interlock Devices (SB 1046): This bill extends a pilot program that requires most convicted DUI drivers to install ignition interlock devices, which prevent them from operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. Under the law, the DUI offender is able to obtain a restricted driver’s license, have their license reissued, or get their motor vehicle privileges reinstated on the condition that they install a device in their vehicle for a prescribed amount of time. The bill extends the pilot program in four California counties — Kern County not being one of them — before it expands to the entire state on Jan. 1, 2019.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is actively involved with Mother Against Drunk Driving, Kern County.

Accident Reporting (SB 491): This law increases the minimum financial threshold for property damage that is required to be reported to the DMV from $750 to $1,000 when a driver is involved in a motor vehicle crash.

Vehicle Safety Recalls (AB 287): This law, called the Consumer Automotive Recall Safety (CARS) Act, requires the DMV to include a general advisory regarding vehicle recalls and needed repairs on each vehicle registration renewal notice. This law also bans a dealer or a rental car company from renting or loaning a vehicle with a manufacturer’s recall until the vehicle has been repaired.

Installing Counterfeit or Nonfunctional Air Bags (AB 2387): This law prohibits knowingly and intentionally manufacturing, importing, installing, reinstalling, distributing, or selling any device intended to replace an air bag system in any motor vehicle if the device is a counterfeit or nonfunctional air bag system, or does not meet federal safety requirements. This violation is a misdemeanor punishable by a $5,000 fine and/or up to a one year in county jail.

———

If you or someone you know is involved in a motor vehicle accident at the fault of another, please call the accident and injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.