Green Light for Self-Driving Cars!

Technology IS The Driver

Technology has been driving innovation and advancements in our lifestyle the past two decades.  And earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) affirmed this.  It stated that under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS),  Google’s self-driving system (SDS) that controls the operation of its self-driving cars is considered the “driver.”  Therefore, Google’s self-driving cars (SDC) may be produced without steering wheels or brake pedals.  This is ground-breaking progress driving us toward realizing the dream of safer roadways
and greater mobility.






In its February 4, 2016 letter to Google, the NHTSA defines “driver” not as a human occupant of a vehicle

“but rather it is more reasonable to identify the driver as whatever (as opposed to whoever) is doing the driving.  In this instance, an item of motor vehicle equipment, the SDS, is actually driving the vehicle.”

Federal Regulation is Passive 

The NHTSA’s responsibility as a regulatory agency is to ensure that all vehicle manufactures self-certify their compliance with existing FMVSS on the date of manufacture.  Federal Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Wednesday, “The burden remains on self-driving car manufacturers to prove that their vehicles meet rigorous federal safety standards.”  NHTSA does not test or certify for the manufactures.  Rather, it creates standards to improve safety.

Exemptions Rather Than Compliance May Be Best 

NHTSA acknowledged that federal regulatory rulemaking process is slow and possibly ineffective for technology advances:

the time it takes to conduct rulemakings may, in some instances, make such proceedings ill-suited as first-line regulatory mechanisms to address rapidly-evolving vehicle technologies

Consequently, it suggests that Google seek exemptions from various provisions of the FMVSS.

TED Talk Convinces

If you are still skeptical of the self-driving car, or, if you are a big supporter, I encourage you to watch Chris Urmson’s TEDTalk.  Mr. Urmson is the Director of Google’s Self-Driving Cars.  He shared that Google self-driving cars drive 3 million simulated miles daily – daily!

During Mr. Urmson’s talk, the data and images speak for themselves.  The shock and awe starts at about minute 8:33.

The Google self-driving car anticipates possible collisions and avoids them.

It will be exciting to see what more we will see from Google this year and its SDC.

Copyright 2016 The Filutowski Law Firm, PLLC. Disclaimer: This page is intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. An attorney-client relationship is not created or continued.

Self-Driving Car Protects Us From Our Distraction

Google’s Self-Driving Car (“SDC”)

California is considering mandating that a driver sit in the SDC as a back-up “driver.”   Specifically, CA is interested in amending the CA Senate Bill 1298 to include additional regulations.

Learn more about the evolution of the SDC:

It looks like CA is — and it is very rare for me to say this — trying to over-regulate something it does not understand.

When I teach Intro to Law, I ask students: is law reactive or preventative? Which is better? They all say preventative. But then when we start talking about technology, they realize the law just can’t keep up.  And that that is a bad thing.

Until, I have to argue, the SDC.   I appreciate California’s good intentions, but in this situation, it may hinder the SDC’s needed freedom to properly evolve and build customer trust.

When the ATM was introduced, was there a human inside the machine dispensing the cash?

When the dishwasher hit the marketplace, was there a law promulgated that mandated a human supervise the machine during its entire cycle?

When you try to “trick” the washing machine to be able to open it to throw in more clothes, does the machine cooperate, or are does it ignore you and leave you frazzled as it proceeds to wash your clothes?

If society allows the button-pushing, impatient, already very distracted people in a SDC to interfere with Google’s heavily-researched and coded network, it may lead to more accidents.

SDC Facts:

Google SDC has driven over 1,000,000 miles, including mountain roads, highways, city streets, and Lombard Drive in San Francisco.  No accident has been caused by a SDC while in autonomous mode.  See Google’s SDC Project Monthly Report.  In fact, the main cause of SDC “accidents” are distracted drivers rear-ending them.

Collisions caused by humans

In 2014, there were 9,967 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes involving a driver with a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher; this was 31 percent of total traffic fatalities for the year. See National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Society is already tolerating teens to senior citizens, to sit behind the wheel in whatever mental and physical condition, driving a machine weighing 1-2 tons upwards to 85mph+ without pause.

So why the fear with the SDC?

Because it is new.  Unfamiliar.

Yet, the law is trying to regulate something it does not fully understand.  Furthermore, the local government may profit from this new area of regulation.  Charging for an autonomous vehicle operator certificate at DMV’s in CA, for example.  What about a training course fee?  Exam fee?  Renewal fee? Etc.

We already are all passing through life with our heads bent down looking at screens.  Distracted driving is already a big cause of injury and fatality collisions.  Society might as well protect us in our distracted state and provide for SDC to operate, as programmed.

Copyright 2016 The Filutowski Law Firm, PLLC. Disclaimer: This page is intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. An attorney-client relationship is not created or continued.

Can Seattle Beat Traffic for $50 Million?

Paul Allen and the U.S. Department of Transportation are posingSmartCity challenge to mid-sized cities. The city with the best solution to reducing gridlock will receive $50 million.

Last year Forbes listed Seattle as 8th U.S. city most traffic-jammed.

So, C’mon Seattle, you got this challenge!

Since the geography of Seattle is just not conducive to high volume traffic, we have to lessen the load.  My suggestions go beyond just technology and a transportation task-force, they require society to modify its habits and expectations, such as:

1. Puget Sound area workplaces cut 9am-5pm desk occupancy by 50% by the year 2020. This will decrease the number of coffee-craving commuters – alleviating gridlock, increasing family time, sleep time and happiness levels.

Well, how do employers do this? Focus on employee performance not attendance. After all, the annual review considers the person’s performance, and not their ability to look busy. Many companies are remote working already.

For those employees who must be at the office building, consider offering them hours during off-peak commute times. Obviously my 50% occupancy suggestion does not apply to every workplace, e.g., hospitals, Boeing plant and schools, but it does apply to a majority of the workforce.

2. City Council regulates when semi-trucks and large deliveries can pass through the City’s I-5 section, and city streets, which in turn avoids freight congestion.

3. Convert dying retail stores and malls to inventory warehouses of online retailers.

4. Make most college and graduate courses available online, and in-class attendance optional.  This will reflect the workplace in which the future graduates will work in; best prepare them before graduation.

5. Add more Sounder train times for commuters from South and North Puget Sound.

6. Get walking. Yes, in the rain, and the cold. Seattle is very walkable.  A 45-minute walk beats sitting in gridlock and then hunting for $20 parking. Plus, you enjoy endorphins, see things you usually would miss when sitting in your car (including people – who you can acknowledge and have an exchange of words!), avoid a monthly gym membership, walk past dozens of cars stopped at a green light, and not feel the pressure of “having to beat traffic” because no one is blocking your sidewalk.

To encourage more walking, the city can create “pedestrian only” sections of the city. A start would be a 1-2 block radius around Pike Place Market.

7. City Council prohibits the introduction of another large corporate office in downtown Seattle, unless it is a 100% remote-working office.

8. Create parking garages that time when you exit. This will absolve the need for cops to direct exiting traffic, and the paralyzed line of cars waiting in the garage to leave.

9. Eliminate carpool and bus-only lane designations. How many times have you crawled along an empty “Bus Only” lane or a wide open HOV lane?

10.  Embrace self-driving cars and the sharing economy.

These are just some suggestions that, at a minimum, could really improve work/life balance for thousands and the daily flow of the Seattle area.





Copyright 2015 The Filutowski Law Firm, PLLC. Disclaimer: This page is intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. An attorney-client relationship is not created or continued.

2015 Forecast: Self-Driving Cars, Changing Lives and Laws

It is cute, approachable, comfortable, some say it will be the safest and fastest transport option on the road, and does all the work for you.  What is there not to like?  The Google self-driving car, or, generally, the self-driving car (have we come up with an acronym for it yet? – perhaps “SDC”?) is highly-anticipated, and an unavoidable addition to our lives.

Yet, with any new technology, it takes time to adjust.  But that adjustment time is getting shorter and shorter.

Let’s consider the history’s latest technology advances. For example, the Automatic Teller Machines (“ATMs”).  They were introduced to the public in the 1970s under a signficant marketing campaign to lure the attention and garner the trust of customers.

Now, can you imagine life without an ATM?

How about, cell phones.  Call anyone, from anywhere there is a signal.  Laptops.   Social networks.   Email.  iPads.  Hybrid electric cars.  Tesla electric cars.  Renewable energy solar panels. Google glasses.

Everything is targeted about being more efficient, connected and/or sustainable.

Children are getting iPads and cell phones at younger and younger ages.  This generation, named Generation Z, is what will make this self-driving car a success.  And this success will change everything we know about everything on the road.

Human-error is the leading cause of automobile collisions, not manufacturer defect.  Consequently, laws trying to protect distracted and irresponsible drivers, are not working.  The law against texting while driving is ineffective, as are drunk driving laws.  Rear-end collisions, distracted driving, super-urbanization and pollution are taking over the planet.   We all know the problems.  We crave solutions, safety, sustainability and reliability.

The future with Google’s self-driving cars is nearing. [Read more…]

With No Driver, Who Is Responsible for Car Accident Caused By Self-Driving Car?

Car-less driver technology has sped ahead of lawmakers, leaving them contemplating who is liable under tort law in a  car accident involving a self-driving vehicle.

A few states have authorized the testing of self-driving Google vehicles on roadways.   These states includes California (SB1298), Nevada, Arizona and Florida.  The bills require the promulgation of rules governing consumer use of the vehicles.  In California, the home of Google headquarters, such rules must be proposed by 2014.  No state has authorized the consumer-use of these vehicles, yet.

How Does A Driver-Less Car Drive?

Googling “how does driver-less car work” did not land me on a Google page discussing its cutting-edge technology.  Instead, I found this link that outlines how the driver-less car works.  The vehicles operate off various cameras, global positioning sensors and lasers to orient itself on the road, watch for obstacles and map its routeof sensors.  Details as to how speed is calculated, and how the car safely parallel parks, were not revealed.

Yet, Google makes the bold claim that its technology will be able to reduce the nearly 30,000 fatalies from  car collisions by 90%.


Many auto manufactureres, including Audi and Nissan, have announced their intentions of offering driver-less cars in the future.

Who Is Liable?

Currently under tort law, an individual who negligently operates a car and causes a collision, is legally responsible for the collision.  If the driver is insured, the automobile insurance  should cover the expense of the collision.  However, where there is no human driver, and a collision is caused, perhaps due to a miscalculation of space or a “computer glitch” in the programming of the vehicle, who is to blame?  The manufacturer of the software – Google? The auto manufacturer of vehicle? The individual programmer?

There are no answers, yet.   It is estimated that within the next five years, car-less drivers will be available for consumer use.

Forbes has an excellent 2-part series on driver-less car technology.  Part 1 discusses the expected safety improvements and benefits for those with physical impairments.  Part 2 explores the potential future trillion-dollar profits to ripple from the introduction of the driver-less car to the market.

In addition to the legal implications, there is also the morality consideration of how to program the vehicle to respond in certain situations.  This article in The New Yorker posed the question of how a driver-less car should respond when it has been speeding and a school bus full of children cuts it off.  Should the vehicle swerve, hit the brakes, or perhaps, must the human occupying the vehicle interfere with some emergency switch?

Only time will reveal the answers as consumers take their driver-less cars onto the roads and policy makers and lawmakers respond to the issues as they arise.