What Does Increased Technology Mean for Motorist Safety?

While some people are addicted to their smart phones, which can offer directions, allow users to surf the Internet and keep emails at their fingertips, others marvel at other technologies that are making basic driving frustrations a thing of the past. Consider the latest GPS technology, electronic anti-lock brake systems and maintenance sensors in today's automobiles.

With gadgets and advancements that would even make Batman envious, today's drivers may now be able to focus on other issues on the road. As suggested in a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, help from technology relieves driver stress.

On November 4, 2010, Ford Motor Company and MIT's New England University Transportation Center (NEUTC) announced the results of their collaborative research project regarding drivers and new technological advancements. This nine-month study monitored drivers performing tasks considered high stress, such as parallel parking and backing out of parking spaces. The study compared drivers' heart rates while performing these parking tasks unaided with drivers' heart rates performing the same tasks with the aid of Ford's experimental Active Park Assist system. Those drivers performing unaided tasks averaged notably higher heart rates - indicating higher levels of stress.

Consistent with the study results, many drivers loathe certain driving tasks, including parallel parking. A recent Harris Interactive Poll indicates that 31 percent of U.S. drivers avoid the task whenever possible; for some, it causes significant fear and frustration.

Ford, along with Toyota and BMW, now offer cars with self-parking systems. However, these automakers are not the only stakeholders in the driving technology game. In October, Google announced its self-driving car. With a Toyota Prius as the base of its prototype, Google has tested its vehicle for more than 140,000 miles. The only reported accident was the result of another driver rear-ending the robot car. While many herald the Google car as the wave of the future, self-driving technology poses an important question. How will this new driving situation affect our body of tort law and existing traffic safety statutes? Who will be liable for car accidents when computers are driving the cars?

With new advancements eliminating the risk of human error, our legal system and federal schemes will be forced to develop the law and continue the efforts to promote highway safety.