Can Driverless Cars Get a Traffic Ticket in Maryland?

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Driverless cars are not just the stuff of futuristic movies or sci-fi novels anymore; they’re real, they’re on the road, and soon we’ll probably encounter them every day.

Self-driving vehicles offer a whole host of exciting possibilities for travel, but they also raise a whole host of important questions. Among them is this critical consideration? In the event that a self-driving car breaks the law, who should get a ticket? Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Randolph Rice explains.

driving 2732934 1920 - Can Driverless Cars Get a Traffic Ticket in Maryland?How do these cars work?

How do driverless cars work? They seem like instruments of the future, but the technology inside them is fairly understandable.

According to Time magazine, there are three elements that separate a driverless car from a driver-operated one: “[A] GPS system pretty much like the ones found in many vehicles today…[A] system to recognize dynamic conditions on the roads. And…a way to turn the information from the other two systems into action on your ride.”

In effect, driverless cars utilize GPS technology plus a real-time road interpretation system in order to safely navigate the roadway. However, this doesn’t mean driverless cars are flawless; indeed, they are perfectly capable of causing accidents and injuries on the road. They are also capable of routine traffic violations. And so that raises the question: When driverless cars break the law, who pays for it?

law 1991004 1920 300x196 - Can Driverless Cars Get a Traffic Ticket in Maryland?The law is still being written

Self-driving cars are so new that the laws surrounding them are still being worked out. The fact of the matter is, there’s no all-around clear-cut answer to the question of who is liable for traffic violations from driverless vehicles.

The question has been addressed a few times. In San Francisco earlier this year, according to Business Insider, a driverless car received a ticket after failing to yield to a passenger. Insider reports that “The human test driver, who was in the car at the time…ultimately received the citation.” The start-up that produced the vehicle, Cruise, said that the driver was “not at fault and did everything right.”

What this suggests is that, moving forward, whoever is behind the (self-driving) wheel of a self-driving vehicle may indeed be liable for the ticket, even if he or she were not operating the automobile at the time.

What if there’s nobody in the car?

Not all driverless vehicles have someone in the driver’s seat. So what happens if a police officer pulls over a driverless vehicle and there’s literally nobody inside it?

That, too, is still being codified. Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert in self-driving vehicles, writes at Slate that, under Nevada law at the very least, “the person who tells a self-driving vehicle to drive becomes its driver.” This likely means that, if you send a driverless vehicle out onto the road, you’re responsible for it—and any tickets the vehicle might receive.

Further clarity came from an executive order issued by Arizona governor Doug Ducey earlier this year. Governor Ducey declared that “the person testing or operating [a] fully autonomous vehicle may be issued a traffic citation or other applicable penalty in the event the vehicle fails to comply with traffic and/or motor vehicle laws.” In the state of Arizona, at the very least, anyone involved in testing or operating a driverless vehicle becomes liable for it

In the end that makes sense. Driverless vehicles are new technology and we’re still figuring out how to regulate them, but one thing seems obvious: If there’s been a traffic violation of any kind, there has to be someone responsible, whether it’s the company, the personal car owner or whoever is behind the wheel. Figuring these things out is going to be critical as this new technology continues to develop.

Have you been injured by a self-driving vehicle? Contact Randolph Rice for a free consultation. Just because there wasn’t somebody behind the wheel doesn’t mean someone isn’t liable. If you’ve been injured because of the error of a driverless car, you deserve compensation—and Randolph Rice can help you get it.


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