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Self-Driving Cars: Still a Good Idea?

We’ve all seen warnings about the dangers of distracted driving, whether in the form of commercials, public service announcements, or billboards (ironically enough). You might even know people who have been affected by a distracted driver. They tell us how their lives were changed in a split second—in that dreaded split second, their friend or family member was gone forever because of a text message that couldn’t wait.

Distraction.gov, the Official US Government Website for Distracted Driving provides us with some startling facts:

  • If an average text message takes five seconds to send, at 55mph the time it takes to send a text is equivalent to driving the entire length of a football field blindfolded.
  • 3,179 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2014 alone.

In combination with other forms of human error in operating motor vehicles such as driving drunk, driving without a license, etc., the number of accidents due to human error reaches an astounding percentage. According to PBS News, “Motor vehicle accidents caused nearly 40,000 traffic fatalities and 4.5 million serious injuries in the United States in 2015, and 90 percent of those accidents were due to human error.”

Given these facts, it is no shock that Google began developing a driverless car, which is a car designed to have the sensory capacity of a “reasonable driver.” The latest developments in this new technology have attempted to address the question of what a “reasonable driver” would do in particular situations—more specifically, in situations involving questions of self-preservation versus self-sacrifice for the greater good.

The journal Science recently released a study on these types of questions. The study showed that most people indicated their support for a utilitarian model: doing the least amount of harm possible, even if that means self-sacrifice. But when it came down to selecting a car to purchase, most people chose a car that would protect the passengers. These are the types of decisions any fully autonomous car would need to make. In this case, are autonomous cars really the solution to our inability to put down our phones and pay attention to the road? Where would the liability fall? These are interesting questions from a philosophical, practical, and legal standpoint. Here at GoldenbergLaw, we’ll be keeping our eyes on this development and we hope you’ll think twice before taking your eyes off of the road.

To be a part of the research or find out more about your personal decision-making habits when it comes to self-sacrifice versus self-preservation, visit the MIT Media Lab interactive website.

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