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Driver Assist Technologies are Revolutionizing the Concept of Driving and Accident Liability

When you sit and read about many of today’s new automobiles and watch the television commercials you cannot help but notice that the cars we knew many years ago bear very little resemblance to the cars of today.  Many of today’s vehicles offer sophisticated lane departure warnings, drowsiness alerts, automatic braking, active steering, adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control, and other highly touted safety features which depend on sophisticated technology and complicated algorithms not to mention miles of electrical wiring.  Unfortunately as is the case with the implementation of any new technologies unfortunate accidents involving serious and fatal injuries will occur as defects develop and glitches in systems become known.

Bicycle Accident Imminent - Driver Assist Technologies are Revolutionizing the Concept of Driving and Accident Liability

What is Driver Assist Technology?

The term “driver assist technology” describes any system which assists a driver in accomplishing the tasks of operating the vehicle.  As an auto product liability lawyer for over three and a half decades, we are seeing both more sophisticated DAT systems along with more failures in which have caused catastrophic injuries or wrongful deaths.

Many vehicles contain a source of information available after an accident with the first being an onboard diagnostic system known as the OBDII system.  Basically, this system consists of federally mandated diagnostic procedures which can be downloaded through a data port allowing experts to determine whether or not critical diagnostic trouble codes have been set in the vehicle.  In some ways, systems like these are similar to the black box that experts seek following an airplane crash or malfunction. The OBD’s have been mandated and specified by the government since 1996 and are fairly comprehensive for many possible system failures.  However, the now aging OBDII may not be capable of performing the onboard diagnostics necessary to identify defects in some of the modern or upcoming DAT vehicles.

Connecticut Highway - Driver Assist Technologies are Revolutionizing the Concept of Driving and Accident Liability

The Relentless March of Progress Introduces New Risks?

There is little doubt that automobile driving is being revolutionized and we are not so far away from the introduction of vehicles capable of completely autonomous driving.  Major automakers have promised self-driving cars and Nissan claims that they will be able to start selling a self-driving car by 2020.  Unfortunately, though somewhat predictably, advances in technology have revealed significant flaws and defects with more and more vehicles being recalled.

In my own life,  I recently purchased a car that has very sophisticated driver assisted systems. While interesting and fun to the driver, they concern me in my capacity as an automobile and product defects attorney as I am always alert for a potential failure or algorithm defect. potential technological defects may include:

  • Vehicle communication networks — Modern automobiles use a technology called Controller Area Network or CAN bus to communicate between the different BCU’s within the vehicle.  There is often a variance including the number of buses and the speed at which this communication takes place and the available level of information on each of the respective BCU’s.
  • Vehicle electrical wiring — Many of the defects related to electronics in vehicles involve wiring, sensors, software, and the security concerns of systems against hacking.  Modern cars contain miles of wiring and even the basics such as wiring can be vulnerable to defects due to corrosion, moisture accumulations, or short circuits.  Many software defects have been subject to recent recalls.
  • Software glitches — Last November Honda recalled 2 years of Odyssey minivans due to software that could apply the brakes unexpectedly (without the driver touching the brake).  In another recall, Toyota recalled vehicles whereupon brakes were activated without the driver pressing the pedal in certain Toyota Camry’s.  Other recalls involved Toyota Camry’s engine computers and Lexus SUV’s braking computers.

Airbag - Driver Assist Technologies are Revolutionizing the Concept of Driving and Accident Liability

Perhaps even more frightening than the foregoing is the loss of vehicle control that is more likely to occur with these new systems.  One threat is that external signals and controls that may have bearing on automotive systems can potentially be hacked. Furthermore, in older vehicles, the vehicle controls were often mechanical in nature. In newer vehicles, your commands may need to be interpreted by a computer that then sends your commands to the appropriate car system.

As electronic systems in cars, trucks and other vehicles proliferate, it will become increasingly important to investigate for electrical flaws when an accident occurs. Furthermore, software bugs and glitches are likely to receive even greater attention as they become more common.

In short, proving the existence of a motor vehicle defect or litigating a car accident injury is likely to become a much more technical endeavor. Furthermore, there is likely to be a great deal of litigation regarding which entity is responsible for DAT defects. Working with an established motor vehicle accident attorney can provide you with experienced guidance and the peace of mind that a thorough investigation occurred.

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