Feds Open the Floor on Highly Automated Commercial Vehicles

On April 24th, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will hold a public listening session via a live web broadcast to allow the public to express its concerns and opinions regarding the development, operation and regulation of Highly Automated Commercial Vehicles. You can join that broadcast by following this link:

https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/event/highly-automated-commercial-vehicles-hacvs-federal-motor-carrier-safety-administration-fmcsa

Highly Automated Commercial Vehicles are vehicles such as 18-wheelers or dump trucks that automate much, if not most of their operation via computer programming. The vehicle operates with with sensors and  computer programming that enables the vehicle to ‘sense’ its surroundings and automate the required function with little 18 Wheeleror no need for a driver. Vehicle automation is already commonly seen in several passenger motor vehicles that have the ability to do such functions as parallel park automatically. The Ford Escape SUV, Range Rover Evoque SUV,  and the Mercedes-Benz GL350 diesel SUV are three examples of cars that can parallel park automatically.

Proponents of commercial vehicle automation both private and in the commercial motor vehicle setting argues that it will ultimately lead to fewer truck accidents and a vehicle that is safer and easier to operate. An automated vehicle is simply not subject to certain human errors. It never falls asleep at the wheel. It never drinks too much to drive or requires no doze to drive long hours.  In the commercial setting, you could potentially do away with the need for driver hour logs and regulations thereby increasing the productivity of any particular vehicle.

On the flip side, opponents of Highly Automated Vehicles have legitimate concerns about whether a vehicle with little or no input required from an operator can every truly be programmed to account for all the many unforeseeable events that may occur on the road.

From a legal standpoint, one wonders what this will mean for personal injury law as it pertains to car and truck accidents. Most States require some form of negligence on the part of the operator to hold a driver responsible for a wreck. If the vehicle automates all of the choices, how can the driver be responsible for a “negligent choice” made? Moreover, does every auto accident now become a costly-to-pursue products liability case against the vehicle manufacturer too?

In any event, in this age of artificial intelligence, robots and automation, automated vehicles are highly likely to be our inevitable future. The Feds are offering anyone who wishes to voice an opinion on it their chance on April 24, 2017. If you wish to be heard, now is the time.