AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — Two autonomous vehicles blocked lanes of traffic Friday night in Austin, Texas, a city that has become a hub for companies testing driverless cars, raising questions about oversight of the experimental technology.
Cruise, a rideshare and delivery company, responded to KXAN’s inquiry about the cars. One vehicle was stopped in a lane of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, and another was stopped near the intersection of West 15th Street and Trinity Street.
A Cruise spokesperson said when the driverless cars are uncertain of the safest way to proceed, they will pull over and turn on their hazard lights.
In a statement, the company said there are Remote Assistance advisors who monitor and occasionally assist vehicles in incidents like this.
“Within our dedicated team who continuously monitor and assist our driverless fleet, our Remote Assistance (RA) advisors are available in instances when the AV needs help navigating a situation. RA advisors have access to live data from the vehicle and by connecting remotely to the vehicle, they can suggest a pathway that allows the vehicle to proceed. We’re working to minimize how often this happens, but it is and will remain one aspect of our overall safety operations.“Cruise spokesperson
Along with Cruise, Volkswagen and Waymo are a couple of the other companies testing self-driving cars in Austin.
Local motorists react to stopped AVs
Robert Waters rides his motorcycle around Austin in an effort to save money on gas, he said.
“In my truck, I’d spend probably three times more,” Waters said.
Waters said sharing the road with cars that already have a driver can occasionally get dicey. He said he’s unsure about making room for autonomous vehicles.
“It’s a little scary because it’s hard enough for them to see us, you know, regular people driving cars. So somebody’s not driving, it could go either way,” Waters said.
City says it does not regulate driverless cars
KXAN reached out to the City of Austin’s mobility department about these stopped vehicles.
The city said while it offers knowledge to companies like Cruise that operate AVs, the state regulates the vehicles.
“The City has worked with autonomous vehicle companies in the past as they enter the Austin market to offer staff’s knowledge on the local transportation network, but the City does not oversee or regulate AVs,” a city spokesperson said.
Who’s responsible if an autonomous vehicle crashes?
Austin-based law firm Byrd Davis Alden & Henrichson, LLP said the evolution of driver-free technology means litigation surrounding crash claims has evolved as well. Traditionally, a car crash caused by human error allows the victim to pursue a claim based on the driver’s negligence, per the law firm’s analysis. Most auto accident claims filed in Texas are done so under this stipulation, the firm added.
In the case of self-driving cars, that fault could fall into the hands of the vehicle’s manufacturer.
“If the car was on autopilot and essentially ‘driverless’ at the time of a crash, the driver may not have been negligent,” the firm wrote. “Instead, the cause of the crash may have been a defect in the vehicle. It follows that liability would fall on the manufacturer of the vehicle.”
However, attorneys added liability might be a trickier thing to prove once self-driving vehicles are involved. Because insurance companies can’t rely on a driver’s statement from the autonomous vehicle, the law firm said these companies might analyze the information provided by the “black boxes,” or electronic control modules, in the AV.
As a result, a possibility could be the vehicle’s manufacturer would be tasked with proving its vehicle didn’t cause the crash, instead of placing the onus on the driver of the other vehicle to prove that the AV is responsible.
Byrd Davis Alden & Henrichson, LLP cites defective vehicle claims, where if a defect is found to have contributed to a crash, the manufacturer of the vehicle is held liable. Even if that is the case, those injured in crashes or who have sustained vehicular damages will still need to prove the extent of those damages through insurance adjuster negotiations.