Self-driving cars may be a brand-new invention, but they are still required to follow the rules of the road and the laws of the land. While we are being taught that self-driving cars are “autonomous,” the truth is that there is no car today that will decide on its own to go to the grocery store, or the movie theater, or the beach, or the bank. Self-driving vehicles move because someone is sending them somewhere.
First, someone thought of this concept, designed it, built the vehicle and all of its moving parts. For this conversation, we will call this first “someone” Acme Roadsters. In the bustling business world of joint ventures, limited liability companies, etc., it’s quite possible that Acme Roadsters built the physical vehicle, but someone else designed the hardware/software necessary for the vehicle to operate. We can call this “someone” Coyote Systems and let’s call the super cool car the ARCSalot. Now after inventing the ARCSalot, ARCS calls themselves together and collectively asks, “Hmm, where will we operate this super cool car?”
In steps the “public someone” of the much heralded private/public partnership bearing the face and name of the City of Wildwood City Council. The City Council, on behalf of all the good people of Wildwood, and in exchange for the opportunity to provide a tax-free business domicile to ARCS and the use of videos and photographs of the ARCSalot for the City of Wildwood’s Bureau of Tourism, directs the Wildwood Public Roads & Works Department to establish a defined area of roadways for ARCS use and operation of the ARCSalot; and further directs the Wildwood Department of Motor Vehicles to inspect the ARCSalot and issue a license plate.
Wow, now we have a “self-driving” vehicle with three separate “someones” sitting in the driver’s seat – let’s see if we can fit anyone else in this super cool car. The Wildwood Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t actually do inspections but only reviews the paperwork obtained from private garages and issues plates and inspection stickers. So, back we go to the public/private partnership and along comes some local garage “someone” looking for a little free publicity, who stood there and said “right turn signal, left turn signal, blah, blah, blah” – and the turn signals blinked in the correct order, and the t.v. lights burned brightly, and now Wildwood Garages & Sons is in the clown car too.
Yes, one day self-driving cars may start themselves up and take themselves in for an oil change or a fill-up. But the vehicle will still be operating at the control and direction of human beings. There is no true artificial intelligence at this time. “Self-driving” vehicles will follow maps input by human beings and will operate at speeds set by human beings. They will make decisions as to turning, avoiding obstacles, responding to traffic signals, and stopping distances based on algorithms written by human beings. And ultimately, human beings will hold one or more “someones” accountable when these vehicles cause injuries, as an experienced car accident lawyer can attest.