Three things to know about the NHTSA’s guidelines on self-driving cars

Will NHTSA's guidelines help increase the safety of the nation's roadways?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 94 percent of serious car accidents are the result of choices or errors made by drivers. Manufacturers of vehicles have made innovations to help reduce these errors. Examples include collision warning systems, lane assist and other driver assistance technologies.

Many of these innovations are helpful and the NHTSA has clearly stated its support of these advances. However, the federal agency also acknowledges that a regulatory framework is needed to help ensure that the advances are safe. As such, the NHTSA has provided some guidelines to help better ensure the technology increases the safety of the nation's roadways.

Are the guidelines legally enforceable?

At this time, they are not. The guidelines are presented as suggestions. However, the House of Representatives recently passed a proposal that would result in legally enforceable mandates for these vehicles. The bill still needs to move through the Senate and get approval from the president before officially becoming law.

What is the goal of the guidelines?

These guidelines are not new. The first set of guidelines was released by the NHTSA in 2016. The updated version touches on many of the same issues, including recommendations for the manufacturers of these vehicles regarding safety considerations. One difference: these guidelines are designed to address automated vehicles rated as Level 3 or higher while the previous set was designed for Level 2 systems. Level 2 systems are those with combined function automation. This includes vehicles that allow the driver to remove his or her hands from the steering wheel and feet from the pedals. Level 3 are limited self-driving automation, those that allow the driver to cede full control of the vehicle in certain driving conditions.

Essentially, the guidelines appear to state that the federal government will be in charge of safety issues surrounding these vehicles, while states will be tasked with licensing and insurance issues.

Who is liable if a self-driving vehicle is involved in an accident?

Although the answer will depend on the details of the accident, it is generally the person who is supposed to be driving is liable for the accident.

State and federal lawmakers are working on legislation to address full automation and liability issues. North Carolina has been at the forefront of these laws in the past, being one of twenty-one states to currently have legislation about autonomous vehicles. State law notes that the person the vehicle is registered to is responsible for violations involving the fully autonomous vehicle.

Both state and federal laws will likely come into play in the event of an accident. As such, those who are injured in an auto wreck and believe that technology may have played a role in the accident are wise to seek legal counsel. An experienced car accident attorney can review the details of your accident and craft a case to help better ensure that your right to legal remedies is protected.