Georgia Legalizes Self-Driving Cars—Are Drivers Safe?

The Georgia General Assembly recently adopted legislation providing guidelines for the operation of driverless, self-driving cars on public roads. But many people remain skeptical about the safety of autonomous vehicles, which have been involved in several high-profile car accidents, including a fatal crash last year.

Self-driving car start buttonOn May 8, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill  governing the use of self-driving cars, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The state Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 219, which was rewritten after a similar proposed law was rejected in 2015.

Including Georgia, five other states (California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada and Tennessee) and the District of Columbia now have similar laws legalizing self-driving cars with restrictions. Even so, not all people believe self-driving cars are totally safe. A recent AAA report in March found 54 percent of drivers felt less safe at the prospect of sharing the road with a self-driving car.

What is allowed in Georgia?

Under the bill signed into law May 8, self-driving vehicles will be allowed on roads in Georgia as long as the vehicle is insured and registered in Georgia, according to Atlanta’s National Public Radio station, WABE.

"By adopting this legislation, the state of Georgia has put itself in the running and at the forefront as a possibility I think for us or for any other company that wants to develop and deploy self-driving technology," Harry Lightsey, General Motor's executive director of public policy on emerging technologies, said in an interview with WABE.

Specifically, the new legislation would allow driverless vehicles to be on roads in Georgia without a person behind the wheel. But don’t expect to see driverless cars in Georgia anytime soon. Lightsey said it will be “a few years” before GM’s self-driving cars come to Georgia.

Pros, Cons of Self-Driving Cars

Defenders of self-driving cars insist they will make Georgia’s roads safer. “These cars are going to save lives; they’re going to reduce DUIs and reduce fatalities on our state and local roads,” Georgia Senate Majority Whip Steve Gooch, the bill’s sponsor, said to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Autonomous vehicles have been involved in several minor accidents in recent years. Then on May 7, 2016, Joshua Brown was killed in a Tesla Model S operating in autopilot mode after the vehicle crashed into a truck in Florida, becoming the first self-driving car fatality.

Self-driving technology has been used in a limited capacity in many vehicles in recent years. In particular, many cars are equipped with technology designed to avoid a collision, prevent drifting into other lanes and assist with tasks such as parking and cruise control.

The public supports such limited driver assistance technology. A total of 59 percent of people surveyed by AAA said they planned to purchase vehicles with such technological features in their next car.

Proponents of self-driving vehicles claim that these cars will be safer than human-operated cars. While that may be true, some wrecks are inevitably still going to occur, and the legal implications of such a collision could be complex. The manufacturer of such a vehicle could be held liable if the vehicle were found to be at fault for an accident, but claiming compensation for victims and their families would likely require a complex investigation into the cause of any such crash. That is why it’s as important as ever for victims to retain an experienced attorney with access to experienced experts in the field.

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