There are approximately 3,500 car accidents a year in the Czech Republic. Around 600 people die as a result of them and the direct and indirect damages amount to billions of crowns. However, this will change dramatically with the advent of automatic cars.
Drivers will become passengers
For one thing, according to available studies, accidents will gradually decrease by tens of percent. The associated damage will then be reduced even more significantly. While other studies predict some “childhood diseases” of autopilots that make it difficult to react to mixed traffic with conventional vehicles, this is unlikely to last long.
Second – it will not be the human that is responsible for the damage, but the machine. Volvo’s CEO recently confirmed publicly that his company is prepared to take full responsibility for the autopilot decision.
All this will therefore lead to fewer claims and, above all, fewer insurance or other disputes. Today, over 90% of accidents are caused by the driver of the vehicle, who then often needs legal assistance. This too will be different. The car companies will have their own insurance departments and the average car owner will effectively be a passenger. And the passenger usually doesn’t need a lawyer.
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Kill the driver or kill the pedestrian?
The consolation for specialists in the recovery of damages and moral satisfaction may thus be the other, new problems that self-driving cars will bring. It is estimated that alcohol consumption, for example, will rise because there will no longer be any restrictions in this respect. Uncontrolled consumption of intoxicating liquor has historically always led to an increase in demand for legal services.
The introduction of autopilots has a philosophical and legal problem which is related to the above. Autopilot will have to be programmed to prevent harm, in particular to protect human lives. But what if the car finds itself in a situation where both the passenger’s life and lives on the street are at risk? Whom should it sacrifice? Imagine, for example, that you are driving your self-driving car and comfortably enjoying reading your favourite author. You don’t have to pay attention to anything, you don’t decide anything. Suddenly, a tree falls on the road. Your car should swerve to save you. But there’s a Boy Scout troop marching in the next meadow, so the wagon “hardens up” and keeps going. He’s protecting ten young lives compared to yours.
It’s not just marketing experts who are worried about the fact that the car will be programmed to kill its client if it saves more lives of bystanders. Maybe a person would instinctively act that way too, but it would be their choice. So from a legal point of view, there are many, many unresolved issues on the table.