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Self-driving vehicles raise lots of interests, plenty of concerns

People in California may have heard about self-driving cars in the news, and may have even seen one in person on the roads. Once people get over the shock of seeing an unmanned vehicle driving down the road or stopping at a red light, they are probably still left with a lot of questions. Primarily, they may be curious exactly how they work, and whether or not they are safe.

The California DMV and Legislature has been trying to keep up with this new technology, and have recently adopted several regulations to help ensure that the technology is safe and is being used effectively. These self-driving cars, also known as "autonomous vehicles" must be subjected to rather rigorous testing before they are allowed on California roads. Any company or person who wants to get authorization for testing or driving an autonomous vehicle must apply to the DMV and California Highway Patrol and meet all of their safety standards, which are still evolving. In addition, an autonomous vehicle must have insurance and liability coverage in the event of an accident with another car or pedestrian. California has required a $5 million bond for coverage of incidents or injuries involving autonomous vehicles from each manufacturer or tester.

According to news reports, autonomous vehicles have been involved in four car accidents, but it is unclear exactly to what extent there was property damage or injury involved. Google and other autonomous vehicle pioneers are also claiming that these statistics are controversial, and that human error was to blame in each of these incidents.

It will be interesting to see if one of these vehicles will ever cause serious injury or harm to another person, and how the courts will handle the liability issue. General principles of liability may apply, with the car's human operator being responsible in lieu of a driver, but there will surely be many other questions for the courts and insurance companies to work out.

Source: California DMV "Autonomous Vehicles" accessed July 7, 2015

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