January 30, 2015
If like me you were a child of the 80's you will remember only too well the Back to The Future films which first hit our screens in 1985. Believe it or not, Back to The Future Part II was set in part, in 2015. You remember, flying cars, self-drying jackets, hover boards and those Nike self tying laces (which by the way, Nike are actually making this year in homage to the film).
So I thought to myself, how far have we come in the last thirty years, since the film predicted our future?
Well, in 1985 the Polaroid Sun 600 camera was brought to the market with its instantly printed photographs, Windows 1 was launched, along with the Nokia Mobira Talkman (a mobile phone the size of a medium handbag), and we discovered there was a hole in the O-Zone.
Today, we have mobile phones that were incomprehensible in 1985, the internet has revolutionised access to information and whether we like it or not, the world is now a much smaller place. We instantly complain of 'buffering' when we have to wait for our internet connection - I remember going out for an entire afternoon waiting for my Commodore 64 computer to load a program! Safe as to say, we have come a long way.
We are living in exciting times, still in the midst of a technological revolution and, whilst we might not have flying cars, self driving cars might be closer to reality than you think.
Self Driving Cars in the UK
In 2014 the British Government pledged £19 million to help develop and test this technology on our streets. The cars are set to hit Milton Keynes, Coventry, Greenwich and Bristol in the initial tests.
Milton Keynes has a project called MK:Smart which aims to transform the town into one of the world’s 'smart cities'. One aspect of this project is the LUTZ Pathfinder Pod (pictured below) which is set to realise the potential of autonomous or self-driving vehicles: trials of the pods are due to start in 2015.
Personally, I am both excited and terrified at the prospect of a car that drives itself, and wait with baited breath for demonstrations of how these vehicles will work.
Don’t get me wrong, the prospect of relaxing in the car, possibly even eating my breakfast on my way to the office is great, but we all know computer technology, even in today's world, can be prone to going awry. 'Turning it off and turning it on again' might not be an option when you are doing 50mph on a dual carriageway.
In a collision, who would be to blame?
As a Solicitor specialising in personal injury I am concerned about how the technology will impact on safety both for passengers and other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Liability (or fault) in car accidents can already be complex to discover and attribute, and adding the further factor of an automated vehicle will only raise more questions.
• If a car, being controlled by its computer, is involved in a collision, who is to blame, the owner, the manufacturer or possibly both?
• What if the technology hasn't been maintained by the owner making it malfunction?
• If the car is going too fast who is liable for the speeding ticket?
Will all such cars be fitted with 'black boxes' and / or cameras so that data can be analysed in order to work out what went wrong? How will this be policed?
The law can be slow to keep up with changing times, even more so when progress is so rapid. I just hope the Government is investing as much time and money into considering the safety and legal implications of driverless cars as they are into the technology required to make them.
Would you ever buy a driverless car, or should the responsibility of operating a motor vehicle always lie with a human?