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Congress Wants to Force Arbitration for Autonomous Car Wrecks

The arrival of autonomous vehicles has raised a lot of questions for lawmakers and the courts. Who's responsible when a self-driving car crashes? Who should regulate these vehicles, and how?

With the AV Start Act, Congress has taken an early stab at resolving some of these issues. Unfortunately, these early efforts seem designed to protect corporations at the expense of ordinary people who get hurt or killed in self-driving vehicle accidents - by requiring arbitration and preventing car wreck victims from suing the auto manufacturers.

Why Can't We Use the Old Rules for New Technology?

For decades, the federal government has regulated vehicle safety by imposing standards on auto manufacturers, while states have regulated the operators of vehicles by issuing driver's licenses and enforcing traffic laws.

The arrival of autonomous vehicles raises a question - when the car is the driver, who's in charge of regulation?

Vehicle manufacturers and self-driving technology developers have been pushing for a centralized system of rules for autonomous vehicles. They say that if states are in charge of regulating these new vehicles, there will be 50 different sets of rules. That kind of inconsistent regulation will lead to confusion, complicate legal issues involving self-driving cars, and undermine the new technology's promise of improved safety.

What Are Lawmakers Proposing?

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Self Drive Act, which would clarify the regulatory authority for state and federal governments. The Senate, however, is now considering their own bill, the AV Start Act.

Under the AV Start Act, if you are injured in an autonomous vehicle accident, you will not be allowed to sue the maker of the self-driving technology or join a class action lawsuit. Instead, you would have to go to arbitration.

What's Wrong with Arbitration?

The problem with arbitration is that it gives yet more power to the big companies - at your expense.

The arbitrator will likely be chosen by the big companies. Think about the arbitrator's position - their business flows from one party in a dispute they are supposed to help settle. The party who does not choose them - you - will never see them again, while they probably expect to be hired again by the big companies. That's hardly a level playing field.

Contrast this with your legal options if you are injured because of a defect in an old-fashioned car. You can file a lawsuit. You have an attorney who is looking out for your interests. The judge or the jurors are not being paid by either party in the dispute. If the jury rules in your favor, the defendant can be forced to pay compensatory damages and even punitive damages. In arbitration, you will almost certainly get less compensation, if any.

Arbitration is also confidential, and that creates a public safety issue. When someone gets hurt because of a vehicle defect or a bug in the self-driving software, the companies can "resolve" the issue privately with that driver, meaning that other drivers are not made aware of the problem.

When new technology comes along, lawmakers and courts always must make changes to existing regulations. Unfortunately, Congress's early steps to deal with autonomous-vehicle technology would protect the big corporations that profit from the technology at the expense of the drivers who are injured by their products.

Got Axelrod?

If you've been injured in a car wreck in South Carolina, your Myrtle Beach auto accident lawyer on the Axelrod team will work hard to help you get paid maximum compensation from the at-fault party or their insurance company. Call today at (843) 916-9300 or fill out our contact form to set up a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

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