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Lamber: Arizona could become a transportation utopia with self-driving cars, but we’re not there yet


Humans are pretty bad at driving and some would say, especially Arizonans, because the state is such a melting pot of driving styles.

In fact, and as a way to reduce “human error,” which is the main culprit for all vehicle accidents, the CEO of GM’s Cruise thinks driverless cars will rule the road in five years. Already, no less than 11 companies are in various stages of bringing their versions of robot cars to our state.

As a personal injury attorney with more than 30 years of experience fighting for the rights of injured victims, I’m ready for the driverless car to put me – and others like me -- out of business.

Think about it. Driverless cars don’t have emotions. They don’t hurry and they don’t break the law. They don’t consume alcohol and they don’t text on their phones. They don’t even eat tacos, or put on makeup and they don’t talk to passengers while operating the vehicle.

Driverless cars consume and rely upon data. If all we had was driverless cars on Arizona roads, we would reach, at some point, a transportation utopia from an accident/injury standpoint.

We’ve come so far and the greater Phoenix area is certainly one of the most progressive major metros in the nation to get on board with the autonomous revolution. But alas, even as our state evolves by allowing neighborhood occupant-less electric vehicles to navigate our roads without drivers or passengers, driverless cars are still an oddity to most Phoenicians. In fact, for many, they invoke fear.

So, what is our state doing to protect the melting pot of drivers that now includes robots? The answer is a lot. HB2813 regulates fully self-driving cars in Arizona, including post-accident conduct by the self-driving vehicle system. With more self-driving cars on our roads, we are still in new territory when it comes to determining fault and properly protecting ourselves.

Arizona HB 2813 defines a self-driving car as a driver for purposes of compliance with Arizona traffic laws. The automatic driving system must satisfy all physical acts required by a human driver. The self-driving car must stop at the scene until the duty to give information and assistance is satisfied if there is an accident resulting in injury, death or property damage. The self-driving car must contact law enforcement to report the accident and provide the owner's name, address and registration number to the person struck or the occupants of a vehicle involved in an accident.

If an accident happens involving a self-driving car on a public road or involves a hospital-treated injury, a fatality, a vehicle tow-away, a pedestrian, or the airbags deploy, then NHTSA, which is the national agency that regulates the safety of motor vehicles, requires the motor vehicle manufacturer to submit an incident report within 24 hours.

In Arizona, insurance follows the car. Arizona traffic laws treat the self-driving vehicle system as the “driver” requiring that driver to register the vehicle and carry at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident of liability insurance. Passengers in self-driving cars and occupants of other vehicles who may be involved in an accident would be wise to carry and to have the right monetary dollar limit for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Here’s why - if the self-driving vehicle is not at fault and the other driver is uninsured, the other driver/passengers in both vehicles could look to their uninsured motorist coverage for compensation for their injuries.

If the self-driving car is at fault and only carries the minimum levels of liability insurance, a victim may not be fully compensated unless they carry sufficient underinsured motorist coverage to supplement other available coverage. The self-driving car manufacturer would be on the hook for its own negligence, but it will likely be easier and faster to proceed directly against automobile insurance, including uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, than directly against the manufacturer.

So, who gets sued? This will vary case by case, but it is fair to assume victims will look to the owner of the self-driving car, the manufacturer, the developer of the self-driving software and related technology defendants who may be responsible.

If you are involved in an accident with a self-driving car, consider the following.

• Seek medical attention if you are injured
• Do not leave the scene, call the police and report the accident
• Obtain identification information regarding the self-driving car, such as the owner, the program, the license number, etc.
• Take pictures of all involved vehicles, roadway markings, debris, etc. and write down what happened
• Get witness contact information
• Speak with an attorney and/or report the accident to your insurance company