In less than 12 months, a string of accidents, including at least one in Pennsylvania, has placed self-driving vehicle technology under considerable scrutiny. This comes at the same time as the Keystone State has opened its roads to testing of such technology (although it was halted after a fatal Arizona crash involving a semi-autonomous Uber vehicle in March). Although the technology may yet be a positive for motorists, passengers and the transportation industry, the recent spate of car accidents have shaken public confidence.
Part of the challenge faced by proponents of self-driving and semi-autonomous vehicle technology is that car companies have been reticent in communicating with consumers and members of the public. The only news many people hear about self-driving technology is the reports that are released after an accident. While this may seem to put the technology and the companies that are developing it into an unfairly negative light, the recent accidents and fatalities tend to speak for themselves.
Regulators and legal experts clearly have reservations about self-driving technology, and the legal fallout from some of the last year's accidents is just now coming to light. Uber settled quickly with the family of the pedestrian that was killed by its self-driving vehicle in Tempe, Arizona. They subsequently shuttered the company's autonomous vehicle operations in the state.
This month, General Motors reached a settlement agreement with a motorcyclist who was injured in California by a self-driving GM Cruise. The accidents not only have potential implications for the companies that manufacture and operate such vehicles, but also for the carriers that insure them. This may ultimately have repercussions for private motorists' ability to insure such vehicles.