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Robot Cars vs. Pedestrians

Can we all just get along?

As Congress and state legislatures grapple with the legal and safety issues involving autonomous vehicles on public thoroughfares, a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled "Pedestrian Peril in the Digital Age” discusses the alarming trend in the number of pedestrian traffic deaths.

Over the last ten years, pedestrian deaths have risen by 27%, while other traffic-related deaths have largely fallen. Both drivers and pedestrians are often distracted by cell phones, and alcohol- and drug-impaired driving continue to be problematic. The advent of “robot cars” would seemingly promise to lead to a reduction in the number of pedestrian deaths, since machines cannot be distracted or drive drunk and will be programmed to anticipate and avoid pedestrians.

But a driverless Uber vehicle recently killed a pedestrian, calling into question the safety of autonomous vehicles, and who might be liable when they are involved in automobile crashes or pedestrian impacts. Will pedestrians ultimately be safer when more such vehicles are on the road, or will potentially unforeseen factors wind up making the roads increasingly unsafe for even a careful pedestrian?

As with any new technology, the implementation and growing use and acceptance of robot cars will outpace lawmakers’ efforts to fully understand and legislate their impact on safety and liability issues. Attorneys need to ensure they fully understand the technology involved and how these vehicles are likely to impact civil and criminal law.

Author; Alan J. Couture

About the Author

Alan J. Couture

Alan J. Couture

Mr. Couture's practice is focused in the areas of insurance defense, employment law and civil litigation. He practices throughout northern Michigan and is also licensed in Texas. 

Mr. Couture is a court-approved general civil mediator for many northern Michigan counties. He formerly served as a Board of Governors member of the Grand Traverse/Leelanau/Antrim Bar Association. He was a Board member of the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel from 2001 to 2009 and served as co-chair of the MDTC's Technology Committee. He organized MDTC seminars, including "LawTech 2004" and "Thinking Outside the Jury Box" in 2009, and he has published articles on various legal matters, including the Michigan No-Fault Act, in both Texas and Michigan. He has often spoken at seminars on employment and litigation matters. As an adjunct professor for Spring Arbor University, he has taught post-graduate courses in Negotiations and Employment Law. He is the current Chair of the Peninsula Township Planning Commission and serves on the Board of Northern Family Intervention Services, which helps families with troubled children.He is the past Chair of the City of Gaylord Planning Commission and formerly served on the Board of the Otsego County Commission on Aging.He enjoys sports and holds a 4th Degree black belt in karate. 

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