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The Hammer Comes Down

The downside of driverless cars no one wants to think about

By Linda Hammerschmid

I predict that Defense lawyers will have their plates and coffers full, as will Plaintiff’s lawyers, with the advent of driverless cars.

While those extolling the host of benefits that driverless cars will give birth to, others should cringe at the nefarious consequences that perhaps no one has thought of or admitted to yet.

Firstly, we who love to drive will be advertised to death as to why we should abandon control of our cars to robotic drivers. Keeping us supposedly out of harms way, reducing if not eliminating the consequences of fatigue and alcohol behind the wheel, virtually eliminating accidents and with them injuries and deaths (I will return to this aspect) and presumably road rage incidents, are but some of the lauded promises.

Conversely, the downsides of driverless cars are myriad. Who will be at fault, and therefore who can be sued in all jurisdictions, save perhaps Quebec, will be a major issue. In law schools, budding attorneys are usually taught, when in doubt sue everybody; you can drop Defendants later on, if warranted, but it can be difficult to add them once a lawsuit is instituted, particularly after prescription has attached.

Who will be at fault, and therefore who can be sued in all jurisdictions, save perhaps Quebec, will be a major issue.

And Defendants will call others into the suit to shoulder the blame if in fact the Plaintiffs have forgotten anyone even remotely connected to the driverless car.

Now legislation across the board will inevitably be required. Your insurance companies will want to cover their derrieres and who knows they may even refuse coverage if you opt not to drive yourself. I would if I was an insurance company. I predict litigation will be more complicated, and therefore more costly, as a result, both because of proving who is ultimately at fault and because of the increased number of possible Defendants.

If you have watched any of the crime shows lately, particularly CSI: Cyber and Person of Interest, you know there are hackers out there who can, and will, take over your car’s robotic computer just for kicks. When the vehicle subsequently crashes who is at fault: you, the hacker, the computer manufacturer, the car manufacturer (Google has deep pockets so count on them as Defendants when their driverless cars crash) or the Governments (for allowing the cars on the road in the first place)?

… there are hackers out there who can, and will, take over your car’s robotic computer just for kicks.

Of course the nature of a hacker is to be unknown so you may have to count them out as Defendants, if in fact you can prove your car was hacked. The car manufacturers may state up front that “they” will assume liability, but talk is cheap (unless you are talking to a lawyer the old joke goes) and car manufacturers can afford really great lawyers. As for your insurance company, read the fine print carefully, because in those pages of tiny print, I surmise will be found now or down the road, disclaimers if you or another person is not physically driving your car yourself.

And just try explaining that you were powerless to prevent the accident because you weren’t driving, since you “chose” not to drive. Good luck with that argument.

But the pro argument I find the most innocuous is the one that claims driverless cars will all but do away with death on the highways and streets. You may not die, the passenger in the other car(s) may not die but those awaiting life saving donor transplants will. Morbid maybe but true nonetheless, if we believe the claim, then why bother signing that organ donor authorization anymore.

So the questions become, do we support driverless cars or not? Do we give up this means of attaining personal freedom, driving ourselves anywhere at any time? Do we take the added risk of being hacked for ransom or for some megalomaniac’s sense of kicks?

Do we eventually all just become balls of energy, like the old Star Trek episode, because we gave up our control and the need to know how to do all manual tasks to robots and computers? We’ve already all seen those movies!

© 2016 Linda Hammerschmid

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers.

Image: designmilk via StockPholio.net


linda hammerschmid
Me Linda Hammerschmid is an attorney and has been practicing Family Law since 1982. She is the Senior Partner at Hammerschmid & Associates at 1 Westmount Square, Suite 1290. She is a founding and current member, and past Secretary (28 years) of The Family Law Association of Quebec. She is a frequent guest on CBC TV/Radio, CTV and CJAD, providing commentary on Family Law. You can also hear her regularly on the CJAD show “Passion” with Dr. Laurie Betito, the last Thursday of each month. She and her dog Mac are members of Therapeutic Paws giving joy to the less fortunate. Me Hammerschmid can be reached at (514) 846-1013 or by e-mail at <hammerschmid@vif.com>. All inquiries will be treated confidentially.


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  1. Brian Johnston

    With the introduction of driverless cars, it will no doubt require pre-approval from the DOT to some sort of guarantee the controls are to be hack proof.

    There must be new legislation in criminal code for hacking and taking over vehicles, as with black-hat hackers, they will eventually become capable of preparing code, with a degree of difficulty as the coded keys must be in close proximity to vehicle.

    Airplanes have been taking off and landing on autopilot for years, only with pilot and navigator present, as well as military drones that are piloted by young men and women with great hand-eye coordination.


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