New Advances in “Intelligent Transport” May Prevent Automobile and Pedestrian Collisions, but Leave Questions of Liability

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661px-Peugeot_206_in_collision.jpgAutomobile manufacturers and government safety agencies are working to develop computer systems for cars and other vehicles that can assist the driver, particularly in regard to avoiding collisions and other accidents. Generally known as intelligent transport systems (ITS), this technology would hopefully make significant improvements in road safety for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. From the point of view of a personal injury attorney, however, the question arises of how this will affect liability in the event and accident does occur. Most claims for auto accident injuries proceed against the driver who caused the accident. If ITS allows cars to essentially drive themselves, as some proponents claim, would an injured person be able to assert a claim against an auto manufacturer under a theory of products liability?

ITS refers to a broad range of devices and applications that assist in the operation of a vehicle. These may include wireless technologies that allow onboard computer systems to communicate with corresponding systems in other vehicles or on stationary objects like guardrails. These are often known as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems, and they can help alert a driver to an approaching hazard or avoid a collision. ITS systems may warn drivers of red lights or upcoming traffic congestion. More advanced ITS systems, which have not advanced beyond the conceptual phase, would take over operation of a vehicle in certain circumstances, using V2V and V2I technology to navigate and avoid accidents.

Auto manufacturer Toyota recently demonstrated new ITS technologies for reporters at a testing facility in Japan. A warning beep sounded in the car to alert the driver to a pedestrian, and then to a car approaching at an intersection. A verbal warning sounded if the driver was nearing a red light without slowing. Toyota is reportedly testing a system that determines when a driver presses the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal by mistake, and corrects for the error by immediately stopping the vehicle.