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Fatal Accident with a Self-Driving Car Reminds Us that Technology Needs Regulations, Too


Over the past few years, we have seen a “tech boom” when it comes to the abilities of our cars. From built-in GPS to automatic brakes, to rearview cameras and push-button start, we’ve come to take this technology for granted. So when Google announced that its self-driving cars were ready for the road, it seemed only normal that other companies would follow suit as quickly as they could.

We may be paying for that haste now. On May 7, 2016, Joshua D. Brown was killed when his Tesla Model S “failed to activate its brakes and hit a truck,” according to News 9. The fatal auto accident sparked a government investigation, because this is the first reported fatality of a driver whose car was on autopilot.

The balance between good tech and good decisions

Drivers here in the Sooner State have benefited from certain technologies for years. Back in 2011, OKiePROS helped improve the safety of our roads for commercial truck drivers, by automating the permit and routing system for those drivers. The following year, in 2012, our legislators in the House created HB 3007, an “An Act relating to [autonomous] motor vehicles; amending 47 O.S. 2011, Section 6-110.1, which relates to driver license endorsements; directing the Department of Public Safety to establish certain endorsement; describing endorsement; defining term; directing the Department of Public Safety to establish rules for the operation of autonomous vehicles; providing guidelines for establishing rules; defining terms; providing for codification; and providing an effective date,” putting us ahead of the curve in many ways.

But that legislation stalled, and those rules never came. In the interim, the first self-driving big rig hit the roads in Nevada. So Oklahoma drivers find themselves in the same bind as many other states do: what happens in the event of a fatal auto accident involving a self-driving car, and what steps must we take to ensure that our need for “cool” tech does not overrun our need to be safe on the roads?

There is still a slew of liability issues that need to be worked out before we can really support a fully autonomous vehicle. In the case involving Tesla, we see a defective auto part – but we wonder, too, why there was no override feature for the driver to hit the brakes. If such a feature were available, then the question becomes, why didn’t the driver hit the brakes? Oklahoma must determine what level of accountability we will all have if we’re going to use AV cars and trucks on our roads, so that auto accident victims will be able to get the help they need in the event of a crash. For now, we ask that everyone stay alert when they are on the road – no matter who has the wheel in their cars.

Stipe Law Firm is the name Oklahomans trust when they have been seriously injured. To speak with an experienced auto accident attorney, please contact our McAlester office at (918) 505-7741 or use our contact form. We are proud to uphold the rights of clients throughout the Southeast region of Oklahoma.