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Valentine’s Day Robot Massacre! Google’s Self-Driving Car (MAY be) Partially At-Fault in an Accident for the First Time Ever

**Spoiler alert: this massacre was not particularly bloody.

Self-driving cars are coming. To some extent they are already here. Current car models have boasted self-parking and “cruise-assist” features, along with extra warnings and safety features if your car thinks you may not be paying as much attention to the road as you should.

Self-driving cars have their drawbacks. A large number of people drive vehicles for a living. The current struggles between ride sharing platforms like Uber and traditional taxi companies may be a moot point in less than a decade, and a very large segment of relatively unskilled workers will be left looking for jobs in an increasingly competitive market with dwindling manufacturing jobs. Sure, horse trainers and oil lamp lighters lost their jobs at one point too and there is not a lot we can do to stop the inevitable, but hopefully our governments have plans to ease what may be a very abrupt transition.

People will also take time to trust a robot’s driving skills over their own. This change is not happening overnight, but we have some statistical data backing up the notion that the average person has about as much chance at being safer behind the wheel than a self-driving car they do beating a calculator in a math competition.

We know that “human error” accounts for about 94% of accidents. Back in the mid 2000’s the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same folks that brought us the internet, held a competition for self-driving cars, and engineers jumped at the chance. In 2009 Google started its own self-driving car project. It has developed its own prototypes and it has retrofitted 23 Lexus SUVs that have been driving in Texas, California and Washington.

Google’s self-driving cars currently require a driver behind the wheel at all times “just in case,” and these drivers often take over where there is cause for concern. Still, these cars have driven on autonomous mode on public roads for over 2.3 million kilometers prior to their first minor fender bender in Mountain View, California on February 14, 2016.

What happened? In Google’s words:

“On February 14, our vehicle was driving autonomously and had pulled toward the right-hand curb to prepare for a right turn. It then detected sandbags near a storm drain blocking its path, so it needed to come to a stop. After waiting for some other vehicles to pass, our vehicle, still in autonomous mode, began angling back toward the center of the lane at around 2 mph – and made contact with the side of a passing bus traveling at 15 mph. Our car had detected the approaching bus, but predicted that it would yield to us because we were ahead of it. [….] Our test driver, who had been watching the bus in the mirror, also expected the bus to slow or stop. [….] In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision. [….] The Google AV sustained damage to the left front fender, the left front wheel and one of its driver’s-side sensors. There were no injuries reported at the scene.”

Think of how many kilometers you have driven in your life. Add in the mileage of friends and family you would need to reach over 2.3 million kilometres. How many minor fender-benders have you all been in? Now consider how safe the Wright brothers’ plane was compared to current airplanes; this is still brand new technology only poised to improve. From a safety standpoint, I for one welcome our robot overlords.

Nicholson Gluckstein Lawyers

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