La'Rae H. Hendrix P.A.

Personal injury damages rules are needed for self-driving cars

Florida is one of the most lenient states regarding the regulation of self-driving cars being tested on public highways. The state allows companies to conduct testing without a safety person inside and without having to even report an accident. The issue of strengthening the law arose recently after an autonomous car hit and killed a pedestrian in another state. The incident should remind state officials and private companies that the issue of personal injury and wrongful death damages must be addressed within a state's legal framework prior to approving the use of self-driving vehicles.

The companies involved in the fatal accident, Uber Technologies, Toyota Motor Corp. and NuTonomy, announced that they would suspend testing. However, one of Florida's state senators who supports the state's liberal law says that change here is not necessary. He asserts that because there was a safety driver in the car during the fatal accident, and because that person could not react fast enough to stop it, then no tougher legislation will be effective.

That logic apparently argues that a tougher Florida law would mandate a safety driver, but since that requirement did help to stop the Arizona fatality, it is pointless. The state senator's argument ignores, however, the many other measures that may be effective in making such testing safer and less problematic. Currently in the United States there are 21 states with laws that regulate self-driving cars. Another 11 states have executive orders issued by governors.

Florida has one of the most laissez-faire laws in that it requires very little supervision or accountability. Companies stay out of states that have no law on the subject because they believe that they could incur liability for damages more easily where there is no law recognizing the testing procedure. However, in any situation where a self-driving vehicle fails to detect a pedestrian or another car, or where it does not react appropriately or quickly enough to avoid an accident, the owner will be liable for personal injury damages thereby caused. It may also be necessary to apply absolute liability principles for such vehicles, but that debate will occur on a state-by-state basis.

Source:, "After Uber crash, Florida still welcomes free-range autonomous cars", David Welch, March 23, 2018

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