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Can software be a driver?

Pennsylvania motorists may recognize the concerns that many agencies have with the idea of driverless cars being approved for use on public roads. Software glitches, hacking and other potential malfunctions may cause safety agencies to hesitate in approving new phases of production and testing, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has made an important move towards facilitating further development of autonomous vehicles.

In November 2015, the Google division devoted to developing self-driving technology addressed its interest in allowing development to move forward without the need for a human behind the wheel. The NHTSA has since determined that software can be a driver. This opens the door for testing to continue without requiring that a traditional driver be present. This may be challenging for legislators in some states to accept. California, for example, is addressing its safety concerns by working to develop standards requiring licensed drivers in autonomous vehicles. Additionally, the state is seeking to require the inclusion of steering wheels in these vehicles. Companies developing their driverless technologies, however, are concerned that the ability of a human to override the actions taken by software could create greater potential for car crashes.

The idea of having a driverless car may strike some individuals as exciting, providing a means of making better use of time on the road. Others may worry about malfunctions and their inability to control such a vehicle if something goes wrong. Liability and insurance issues are likely to be among the concerns to be addressed in coming years as this area of technology continues to develop.

Insurance issues can arise in accidents based on whether a driver carries appropriate coverage to address damages related to errors or willful actions. A driver who carries inadequate coverage could face personal injury litigation following a serious accident.

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Gregory R. Gifford
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Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg and Gifford has been a member of the local Penn Suburban Chamber of Commerce (previously known as North Penn Suburban Chamber of Commerce) for more than 25 years.

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