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Time for a technology check!

20 July 2016 Blog

Motorpoint blogger Ken Gibson examines the implications for autonomous cars with the news that a driver was killed while watching a movie behind the wheel of his Tesla in California

“The legal implications of this fatal car crash in California are likely to shape the future for autonomous cars for all of us”

The news that a driver in an autonomous car was watching a film when his vehicle crashed into a tractor and he was killed underlines the fears many people have over the technology.

Police in California are investigating the accident and the maker of the autonomous car, Tesla, are carrying out their own internal report.

But the fact that a car in autonomous mode crashed and someone was killed, will be giving every car manufacturer something very serious to think about.

One of the big selling points of autonomous cars is that drivers can sit back and relax, watch a film, or catch up on business work using the latest car connectivity we now have in many cars. Let the clever car take the strain, the driver doesn‘t need to concentrate.

But just how safe autonomous cars are and who is legally to blame in the event of a crash has always been one of the major issues concerning the ground breaking technology.

The answer is no-one currently knows because we have never had autonomous cars, in UK the driver is always responsible unless they can prove a fault with the car.
 
Car manufacturers, government’s and law makers around the world were already in discussions about resolving the key legal issues surrounding autonomous cars before this crash, you can bet the discussions have become even more critical now.

As a journalist I’ve driven autonomous cars on a number of occasions, including with no hands at over 70 mph on a German autobahn in heavy traffic, it was a mixture of exhilarating and intimidating, but most importantly trust was a key factor.

How much did I trust the car’s on board computers not to go wrong, and that I think will be the overpowering view of most drivers, along with the now highlighted issue of who is to blame in an accident.

Technology is marvellous, until something goes wrong and then as has been shown in California it can be fatal. Because the reality is that even though computers are not meant to go wrong, they do, just like humans.

One thing is sure the entire car industry and millions of motorists will be watching intently for what the legal conclusion is to the autonomous fatal car crash in California. It could well shape a key aspect of the future of motoring for all of us.

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About the author

Ken Gibson was Motoring Editor for The Sun for 23 years during which time he became one of the best known motoring newspaper journalists in the world. Over that period Ken tested thousands of cars from super minis to SUVs and super cars, and drove millions of miles all over the world.

As well as writing a blog covering the motoring issues of the day, he also independently road tests and creates video reviews on a cross section of cars sold by Motorpoint.