Man or machine? Will Vermont soon have robot drivers?

smart car stock photo

If the machine takes over for human drivers as is being predicted, the numbers of traffic accidents and deaths should drop. Human drivers make frequent mistakes. Our attention span is limited which currently means too much distracted driving. The question is what laws need to be enacted to protect Vermonters when robot cars fill our roads.

There is a shift in the regulatory landscape to create new laws to cover driverless cars. Federal laws are focused on the car manufacturers and enforcing safety standards. Vermont law will need to move away from focusing on the driver and towards ensuring that carmakers sell driverless cars which are safe.

In the short term, state law will need to react to the different levels of automation available in vehicles. The U.S. Department of Transportation has adopted the Society of Automotive Engineers' classification system for vehicle automation. Level zero is human drivers. Level one is an automated system that sometimes helps a human driver who is the primary driver. Level two is an automated system that can take over for the driver for essential operations but the human must monitor and remain responsible for driving. Level three cars include some modes in which the car is primarily responsible for driving but the human must be ready to take control of the driving when the car asks. Level four vehicles include some modes wherein the car assumes primary driving responsibility with no expectation that the human will help. Level 5 is the machine drives the car for all tasks and under all conditions with no human driver.

35 states have introduced laws to regulate driverless cars but most states have not yet enacted these laws. We will have to wait and see how Vermont makes laws to test driverless cars, to allow robots to drive on Vermont roads and what laws are passed to hold the car manufacturers responsible for injuries caused by robot cars.

It is important to hold the car manufacturers responsible if they are selling robot cars as that will ensure that the driverless cars are tested and safe for our roads.