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Are Self-Driving Cars the Key to Safer Roads?

Who needs keys? California is the latest state to allow testing of self-driving cars on the road, though only with a human passenger along as a safety measure.

Prototypes of self-driving cars have also begun to appear in Nevada, and it looks like they are here to stay. These so-called autonomous vehicles are expected to be available for the general public within five years.

The question remains as to how driving laws will have to adapt to this new technology. All our rules about driving, such as who pays for speeding tickets to who is liable in a crash, are based on having a human driver.

Manufacturers, such as Google, believe self-driving cars will make driving safer by eliminating things like distracted driving and human error. Car crashes are a leading cause of death for Americans ages 4 to 34 and cost about $300 billion each year. The average commuter in the U.S. currently spends 250 hours a year driving.

Google’s self-driving cars, which have an outstanding safety record, have cameras on the top and computers to do the driving. In their first 300,000 miles, Google reported that its self-driving cars did not have a single accident.

As these cars become more common, new legal questions will arise. If a self-driving car does get into an accident, will the human co-pilot be responsible? What if the person co-piloting the car is injured? How careful can we expect the co-pilot to be? What liability, if any, will fall to the car manufacturer?

These are questions the insurance industry is particularly interested in. Will all the rules of car insurance need to be rewritten? That remains to be seen.