Self-driving cars and trucks have been in development for a long time. Already most new cars have computer software that automates some aspects of the car’s driving as well as the car’s safety. The long-term goal of manufacturers is to develop vehicles that won’t require any drivers at all. For now, the movement is toward self-driving vehicles that will require or allow a human to take over control of the vehicle if needed.
A major concern with self-driving cars is their reliability. There are myriad ways in which cars can get into an accident. The most sophisticated software technology in the world still needs to be tested before any software developments are approved for public use. Just one flaw in the software can cause a fatality or a catastrophic injury.
According to Freightwaves, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently made a projection based on autonomous driving system (ADS) crash data that it expects from 110 autonomous vehicle (AV) manufacturers about the number of AV fatalities the agency expects on an annual basis over the next several years. The NHTSA estimate is based on its analysis of California crash data, where about half of the AV development is taking place. The 2019 data showed that there were 105 ADS crashes in 2019. Since California represents approximately half the AV development, the expectation is that there will be about twice the number of ADS crashes – or more than 200 crashes each year.
The NHTSA recently ordered that car and truck manufacturers with Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) or levels 3-5 ADS report any crashes. The order was issued to 108 companies “to collect information necessary for the agency to play its role in keeping Americans safe on the roadways” while robotic vehicle technology evolves.
NHTSA, according to Freightwaves, believes that the data reporting will take up 11,745 hours at a labor cost of $93.21 per hour for a total cost of nearly $1.17 million. NHTSA has issued an order that “requires the companies included in the order to report crashes that occur on public roads based on the following situations:
- Within one day of learning of a crash, companies must report crashes involving a Level 2 ADAS or Levels 3-5 ADS-equipped vehicle that also involve a hospital-treated injury, a fatality, a vehicle tow-away, an airbag deployment or a vulnerable road user such as a pedestrian or bicyclist.
- An updated report is due 10 days after learning of the crash. Every month, companies must report all other crashes involving an ADS-equipped vehicle that include an injury or property damage.
- Reports must be updated monthly with new or additional information.
- Reports must be submitted for any reportable crash, about which a company receives notice, beginning 10 days after the company is served with the order.
- Reports must be submitted to NHTSA electronically using a form (sample here) that requires important information regarding the crash. NHTSA will use this information to identify crashes for follow-up.”
What are the levels of autonomous vehicle technology?
The Acting Commission of the NHTSA stated that “by mandating crash reporting, the agency will have access to critical data that will help quickly identify safety issues that could emerge in these automated systems.” According to Synopsis, the six levels of driver automation are:
- Level 0. No automation. The car is manually controlled by a human driver. The car or truck may have some software such as emergency brakes that don’t qualify as automation.
- Level 1. Driver assistance. Here, the vehicle has just one automated system such as adaptive cruise control to keep the vehicle a safe distance from the car in front. The human driver controls all other driving operations.
- Level 2. Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS). This AV can control both acceleration/deceleration and steering. A human driver can take control at any time. Tesla Autopilot and Cadillac Super Cruise are both level 2 AVs.
- Level 3. Conditional Driving Automation. These vehicles have “environmental detection” which means the car can make its own informed decisions. For example, the car can decide when to pass a slower car. The vehicle must still allow for a human override.
- Level 4. High Driving Automation. These vehicles still allow for a human override but the vehicle itself can “intervene if things go wrong or there is a system failure.” Level 4 vehicles are capable of driving in self-driving mode. For now, level 4 permission is limited to certain areas and certain speeds. Level 4 vehicles are being primarily used for ridesharing such as shuttles and cabs.
- Level 5. Full Driving Automation. These cars don’t require human input. They won’t even have steering wheels or pedals. Some are being tested but none are available to the general public.
Which trucking companies are subject to the NHTSA order?
The NHTSA order applies to the following trucking companies:
- Truck manufacturers. Daimler Trucks North America (a unit of Daimler AG, Volvo Trucks, Navistar and Paccar Inc.)
- Autonomous truck technology companies. Embark Trucks, Kodiak Robotics, Locomation, Plus, Pronto AI and TuSimple were named.
The NHTSA is formally requesting comments and seeking approval to extend an initial six-month Office of Management and Budget approval for another three years.
What are your rights if you are injured in an autonomous truck or car?
Manufacturers have a duty to consumers and the public to ensure that their products are safe. It’s one thing to test their vehicles on private lots without humans. When companies test their autonomous trucks on public roads or sell their AVs to consumers, and those AVs end up causing collisions where someone is hurt, the injured party may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the trucking company or the owner of the AV. The family of a loved one who is killed by an AV can file a wrongful death claim.
But the injured parties may also be able to file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer that designed and/or built the truck or car. The basics of a product liability claim are that the design or workmanship of the autonomous vehicles was defective, and the defect caused the crash. Products may also be defective if the warnings were wrong or unclear.
In any kind of injury or wrongful death claim, the victim (or the victim’s family) may be entitled to damages for medical bills and expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Wrongful death claims may include funeral and burial expenses.
At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, our Memphis truck accident lawyers work with professionals who understand driver automation technology, so we can better support your claim. We fight to hold everyone including manufacturers, distributors, and retailers liable if a defective car part causes your injuries or causes the death of a loved one. To learn how to file a claim, with our respected vehicle accident lawyers in Memphis and Jackson offices, call us at 901-475-7434 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment.
Since graduating magna cum laude in 2005 from the University of Memphis School of Law, Thomas has helped make a difference in the lives of victims of serious personal injury, wrongful death, and professional negligence. Thomas has extensive trial experience in both state and federal court. Among other victories in the courtroom, Thomas obtained several impressive jury verdicts and settlements
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