Having dealt with automobile accidents and injuries for nearly 30 years of my life (23 years as a Kalamazoo auto accident attorney and 6 years as a claims adjuster) lots of people ask me about the latest rage in the automobile industry, that being self driving cars. It is an exciting concept that we are moving towards no doubt. The idea of just plugging in your destination and letting your onboard computer system do the rest has Detroit and Silicon valley buzzing. Google and Apple are both investing heavily in products and automotive heavyweights such as BMW, Mercedes and Tesla are racing to get their products onto the streets.

As far as safety is concerned, automobile accidents are big killers. In 2010, NTSB estimates 35,000 people in the US died as a result of motor vehicle crashes. Of those deaths, 90% were caused by human error. The deaths, from my perspective, are only the tip of the iceberg as far as the danger is concerned. Even seemingly “minor” crashes can cause a huge disruption in people’s lives. Consequences such as chronic pain, mild to moderate brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are are derided by the media and public in general as over reach by greedy people trying to capitalize on an accident. I have no doubt that the system has been gamed and exploited by some. However, having seen first hand how these conditions can devastate a family they cannot be dismissed. They are real. 

So we have a huge problem, safe roadways. Upon this everyone can agree. Is the new technology the answer? I personally believe it can be and in fact already is making automobile travel safer. I bought a 2016 Subaru Forester recently. Given what I do every day (represent people injured in automobile accidents) I really look at safety. This vehicle had a top rated crash safety rating which i really liked. It also has a front end collision monitor that will stop the vehicle before crashing into another. A warning indicator lets me know when I cross into another lane without signaling. These are great features that I hope will be standard on all vehicles sold in the US. These features will prevent car crashes and personal injuries from automobile accidents. However, the idea of “driverless” cars is well beyond this. The implementation of driverless cars will (at least in the near future) be hampered by the fact that the road will be mixed with drivers and driverless cars. Technology can stop a car from crashing into another, but it cannot anticipate the cars with drivers and other unprogrammed, unanticipated contingencies.

One aspect of technology, cell phones/smart phones, has in my experience made our roads less safe. Will another technology, self driving cars, save us? I think that perhaps yes, however, we just may find that the transition will be rocky and perhaps even create more car crashes in the short term.

Thank you for reading, 

James Giffels 

(269) 381-4172