Mar 212015

Tesla founder Elon Musk believes there will be driverless cars on US roads by the summer, the New York Times reports.

One of the key factors in whether Musk’s prediction comes to and driverless cars are on the road by the middle of the year is the law with most people assuming autonomous vehicles are currently illegal.

Some experts however believe current laws don’t prevent driverless cars, with the New York Times quoting one industry leader who suggests there’s no legal barrier to autonomous vehicles taking to the road.

Tesla is not alone in pushing the envelope. Chris Urmson, director of self-driving cars at Google, raised eyebrows at a January event in Detroit when he said Google did not believe there was currently a “regulatory block” that would prohibit self-driving cars, provided the vehicles themselves met crash-test and other safety standards.

This view raises an interesting legal argument, who is the recognised driver of an autonomous vehicle? In the event of an accident or dispute does liability rest with the owner, the manufacturer or the passengers?

What this debate over driverless vehicles illustrates is how laws specific to today’s society aren’t always applicable to tomorrow’s technologies; certainly many of the laws designed for the horse and buggy era became redundant as the motor car took over a hundred years ago.

Another consequence of autonomous vehicles are the changes to occupations supporting the motor industry; it’s obvious that panel beaters and insurance lawyers may have their jobs at risk but Jay Zagorsky in The Conversation suggests nearly half of US police numbers would be redundant if there are no more car drivers.

Given how the funds local and state governments raise from traffic offences, a shift to driverless technologies could even have an effect on city budgets.

The motor car was the most far reaching technology of the Twentieth Century in the way it changed the economy and society over those years, it’s hardly surprising that we are only just beginning to comprehend how a shift to driverless vehicles may change our lives this century.

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