Can Robots Really Drive Cars? The legal status of self driving cars in the United States

Self-driving cars have been making headlines a lot in the last few years. First, the headline was that there were cars that could drive themselves and do so well. Then there was a headline about how the only accidents in which self-driving cars were involved in occurred when gawking people caused them. Then finally there was a car accident caused by aself-drivingg car, but that’s still considerably more rare than human error at this point. Recently there was a headline about a convoy of self-driving trucks in Europe. And the news just keeps on rolling on.

Here in the United States laws about self-driving cars vary from state to state. Many states still don’t have any laws on the books to address this brand new technology. In fact, only 4 states so far have passed laws about self-driving cars and/or automated driving: California, Nevada, Michigan, and Florida. Google has been doing extensive research in the area of AI as it pertains to self-driving cars. They have also been working with local municipalities to get legislation passed as well as with local police logging thousands of hours on the road for research.

The first crash of a Google self-driving car and another vehicle on the road, in this instance a bus, occurred in February of this year.  That’s particularly newsworthy because traffic accidents with self-driving cars are a very slim exception to the rule — otherwise they are safer than human-controlled vehicles in many ways. In the future, we could see an end to things like drunk driving, tired driving, and distracted driving. Robots don’t talk on the phone or change the radio station when they drive- they actually focus on driving.

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There are multiple levels of self-driving cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Level 0 is no automation whatsoever, which almost no new cars fall under. Level 1 is Function Specific Automation, which includes things like braking assist. Most newer cars have at least this level of automation. Levels 2 and 3 have slightly higher automation- things like keeping you in your lane and parallel parking your car for you fall under these categories. Level 4 is full automation- just sit back and relax and let the AI robot do all the work.

There are lots of companies getting in on the self-driving cars trend- it’s not only Google. Toyota currently holds the most patents pertaining to self-driving cars at 3110, followed by Bosch, Nissan, and Volkswagen-Porsche. Just about every major car company holds patents on driving automation, a good indicator this is going to be the future of driving.

There are still many issues that need to be worked out, particularly at the legal level, before self-driving cars can be a part of our daily lives. Learn more about the current state of self-driving cars from this infographic! You might be surprised just how close the future of driving has become!