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New Modes of Transportation: The Liability Issues

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Today, certainly in urban and suburban areas, everyone seems to have a new set of electric-powered wheels!  Scooters and bicycles in a variety of shapes and sizes. While adults can power along at 20 mph, more children are turning to foot-powered scooters and all this on top of traditional bicycles which are proliferating via bike-share programs.  Add to this the prospect of semi-autonomous and eventually self-driving vehicles plus drones and the specter of flying cars, getting around is becoming crowded and potentially somewhat out of control.

Injuries as a result of electric bikes and scooters are increasing with use and this is confirmed by studies in the Netherlands and Israel where there has been longer use.  There have also been some notable fatalities with autonomous vehicles.

How safe are these “vehicles” for public use?  Currently, there is no clear answer. Regulators, insurance companies, and bike/scooter rental companies and automobile manufacturers continue to work on the issues.  For the short to medium term, we will clearly be in a major transition stage for personal transportation. As an attorney, I am curious as to how it all will evolve. I wonder how much freedom and control the individual will have versus the autonomous vehicle? What will be the outcome of AI and machine learning when vested with critical decisions – some of which could be life or death? Will people be forced to use autonomous vehicles? How much choice will we have?

Currently, there are no fully autonomous vehicles operating in the U.S. but, several now have features that include lane and speed/distance control, a level of avoidance monitoring and parking assist.  As we pioneer these new forms of transportation some accidents are inevitable.  What is fascinating is that perhaps for the first time, the driver may not necessarily be at the center of the litigation. The software could be implicated, not just in terms of executing a move but, its role in the decision process by which it was determined. Suddenly the law will enter the deep world of AI where the machine begins to learn and modifies and autonomously modifies the original parameters set by the programmers. It may well be that a plaintiff will need to hire a lawyer and a philosopher!

Next month, I will be delving further into these issues in my blog and other social media platforms.