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Will Driverless Cars Make Boston Safer?

By DiBella Law Offices on January 18, 2018

Two companies have started testing driverless cars on the streets of Boston to see just how safe they really are. And one company is partnering up with Lyft to bring automation to the ride-sharing industry. But the trials aren’t going over well with all Boston natives. While some residents are keen to try them out, others wonder just how safe these autonomous cars can be.

Boston: Testing Ground for Driverless Cars

nuTonomy was the first company to bring driverless cars to Boston streets. Since January 2017, they have been testing the cars with just one engineer in each car. (nuTonomy did the same extensive testing in Singapore and achieved desirable results.) The early testing was done in the Seaport District, where they also started testing the driverless cars with actual passengers in them.

In December 2017, nuTonomy partnered with Lyft. Lyft users can call for a ride, and the app will let them know if an autonomous car will be picking them up. If it does, passengers are encouraged to leave feedback that will help the company make the cars safer and more comfortable for future riders.

But nuTonomy isn’t the only company around with autonomous cars. Twelve miles south of Boston in Union Point, Optimus Ride is releasing its own autonomous vehicle program in collaboration with real estate developer LStar Ventures. In this program, residents in this urban community can take a driverless car to the South Weymouth commuter rail station. Much like Lyft, passengers simply call for a driverless car from an app on their smartphones.

The companies claim that autonomous cars are much safer than cars driven by people because they eliminate human error. A number of studies seem to support this hypothesis; but that doesn’t mean that autonomous cars aren’t without their problems.

Driverless Cars: The Upside

“Smart” cars are packed with cutting-edge technology. This technology allows driverless cars to communicate with each other. This can be helpful when they communicate about certain road conditions, like a highway blocked off due to an accident, or high-traffic areas that should be avoided.

Driverless Cars: The Downside

This type of communication allows people in driverless cars to avoid bottlenecks and standstills. But this technology is a double-edged sword. If a passenger’s address is entered in the car’s system, can someone steal that information? What happens when there’s an incident like the one Fiat Chrysler faced in 2015? At the time, the company had to recall millions of cars because they could be wirelessly hacked and taken control of.

Another problem is the liability of autonomous cars once they’re on the road. After all, when a human driver is negligent and causes an accident, he has to pay. But when the car that caused the accident doesn’t have a driver, who’s to blame then? Would it be the manufacturer? Or will the passengers in the car have some liability if they fail to take control of the vehicle?

And of course, there’s always the concern for safety. Just how safe are driverless cars? In perfect conditions, with none of the rain, snow, and ice that Boston often gets, they perform quite well. In bad-weather conditions, the sensors along the sides of the cars aren’t as able to determine that other cars are there. Sensors may also be covered and unable to detect the lines in the road, which means drifting and a possible collision.

Autonomous Vehicles: The Future for Boston?

There is little doubt that as autonomous vehicles become more popular, more problems will become apparent.

So are driverless cars making Boston safe? For the moment, it’s hard to say. When the cars are being driven in perfect conditions, they test safer than cars driven by humans. But real life isn’t “ideal conditions.”

When someone is in an accident with a driverless car, an attorney is a good idea. There’s not much legislation written pertaining to driverless cars, so who has to pay for the accident isn’t all that clear. If you’ve been hurt in an accident with a driverless car, our Burlington car accident attorneys at DiBella Law Offices, P.C., can guide you in the right direction, so give us a call at (781) 262-3338 for a free consultation.

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