J.D. Power: AV Evolution Altering the Legal Landscape

The evolution of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and automated vehicles will introduce radical changes to government regulations and industry practices, and alter the legal landscape for consumers, automakers, attorneys, insurance companies and others.

These were the findings of a report from J.D. Power and law firm Miller Canfield, which surveyed more than 1,500 drivers on the practical implications of litigating ADS product liability claims.

The survey found more than half — 51% — of consumers reported that they would pursue litigation for a fully automated, Level 5 vehicle if it was involved in a collision and caused an injury.

The survey was taken before an autonomous Uber vehicle fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., earlier this month.

“The accident in Arizona takes the industry conversation from a hypothetical scenario to one of actuality,” J.D. Power Executive Director of Driver Interaction and Human Machine Interface (HMI) Kristin Kolodge told The Connected Car. “As a result, it is anticipated that framework and policy changes will occur more quickly through collaboration amongst strategic industry players.”

Survey results also indicated claims resolved in an out-of-court, private proceeding with a one-time lump sum settlement represented the optimal resolution method, regardless of injury type.

She explained existing legal processes for handling product liability claims would need to evolve in order to tackle the novel issues presented by the dynamic technological developments.

Kolodge said a surprising finding from the project was nearly three quarters — 74% — of consumers said they were willing to share their vehicle data after a collision occurred with their automated driving vehicle.

“There was a substantial consensus that information should be shared for the greater good of developing automated vehicles,” she said.

Kolodge noted respondents willing to share vehicle data expressed an overwhelming desire to help manufacturers and designers, improve future technology, avoid accidents, lower insurance premiums, determine cause or fault, improve safety, and in general help the “next guy.”

She said such reasoning is closely coupled with the perception that many consumers don’t believe accidents should ever happen with a fully automated — Level 5 — vehicle.

Consumers are still highly sensitive to incidents involving automated vehicles because there is currently a prominent lack of trust in the technology, as recent surveys have revealed.

In addition, J.D. Power data shows instances where consumers cite specific events, such as the Tesla Autopilot accident, as reason for their unwillingness to ride in an automated vehicle.

“An important next step in the progression of consumer acceptance towards automated technology will be experience, more specifically a positive experience, for consumers to shift their mindset,” Kolodge said.

She explained that experience would come both in the forms of directly using the technology and forming their opinions as well as watching others’ experience the technology first hand.

Kolodge warned trust would continue to be fragile with automated technology for the foreseeable future, so incidents such as Tempe will setback the industry as a whole.

However, this depends largely on the industry’s reaction and messaging in the wake of the crash, which will influence how temporary that setback will be.

“Generating positive experiences with the technology, both direct and indirect, will build trust, which in turn will build interest in automation, Kolodge said.

She noted that in addition to gaining consumers’ trust in the technology, the successful deployment of automated vehicles is contingent on the ability to effectively deal with the legal liabilities when an automated driving system accident occurs.

“Just as the industry is fine-tuning its technology, so must other areas of the automated driving ecosystem,” she said.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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