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Getting Pulled Over on Autopilot

Getting Pulled Over on Autopilot

Remember when you were a kid and you would envision the 2020’s? Virtual reality, robots, flying and self-driving cars filled our imaginations. And now here we are; it’s 2019 and we are on the cusp of stepping into all of that technology we once thought was just the stuff of cool sci-fi movies and creative imaginations.

Now that our dreams are becoming a reality, we have to actually deal with reality. What are the rules with these enhanced technologies? Are there laws governing things like self-driving cars? What happens, for instance, if we’re cruising down the Capitol beltway with our Tesla on autopilot and we see those heart-plummeting red and blue lights flash in the rearview mirror? Furthermore, what happens when we send our robot butler out to the grocery store in our completely autonomous family van and a police officer pulls up behind them? We at Ferrante, Dill and Hisle got curious and decided to do a little digging. Read on to find out what we learned.

Autopilot Features and Autonomous Vehicles in Maryland

Currently, there are no laws in Maryland banning or regulating cars with autopilot capabilities or completely autonomous vehicles. However, all vehicles on the roadways in Maryland must pass certain regulations. That being said, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has outlined a clear vision and plan for the safe integration of Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV) on the roadways of the state. Governor Larry Hogan’s administration has put forth several pieces of legislation that would make I-95, US-1 and US-40 testing sites for these driverless technologies. While Maryland recognizes the numerous benefits of CAVs (reduced traffic, transportation of goods from the Port of Baltimore, ridesharing opportunities, etc.), state officials remain committed to the safety of motorists (both human and robotic). So, drivers in our area can expect to start slowly seeing driverless vehicles on the roads in the coming years, but in small numbers and in controlled locations.

Using Autopilot Technologies Legally

Tesla’s autopilot driver assist feature made headlines in November 2018 when police in California pulled over a drunk driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel after putting his car on “autopilot”. The police followed the vehicle for over 7 miles before safely coaxing it to a stop on the side of the road. Because the autopilot technology cannot sense police activity, it kept going, despite the lights and sirens. The responding officers had to box the vehicle in so that it would eventually slow and pull over.

Tesla’s autopilot features are not meant to be set and then forgot about. In fact, Tesla reminds its drivers when autopilot is turned on that they are to remain alert and engaged while the car is moving. Drivers need to keep their hands on the wheel at all times; if autopilot does not detect any torque on the wheel every couple of minutes, it will begin to slow and begin to maneuver to a safe stop. Even though the driver in California wasn’t technically driving the car at the time, he was arrested for drunk driving. In California, and most of the United States, autopilot and other such “driver assist” technologies (i.e. back-up cameras, parking assists, lane drift sensors) do not take the place of a sober and competent driver.

Deciding to use autopilot, like getting behind the wheel of any other vehicle, is a decision that should be made soberly. While these cars are smart and the technology is advanced, it’s important to adhere to the laws and regulations in place designed to keep yourself and other motorists safe. Take advantage of the autopilot feature in your Tesla, but be sure to heed the warnings and reminders put forth by the manufacturers and be ready to take back control of the vehicle at any moment.

Autonomous Vehicles and The Fuzz

So, what happens when a completely automated vehicle without a human driver inside gets pulled over by police? Waymo, a child company of Google, is a pioneer in the autonomous vehicle industry, testing out a fleet of driverless vehicles in one small suburb of Phoenix, AZ. As part of their continued development and commitment to safety of other drivers, Waymo has put together an Emergency Response Guide to outline how emergency personnel can expect to engage with a driverless car.

According to Waymo, every vehicle in their fleet is equipped with sensors that are able to detect sirens and lights from emergency vehicles. Once detected, the vehicle will begin to slow down and maneuver itself to the side of the road as soon as it determines it is safe to do so. Once at a complete stop, the vehicle is capable of unlocking the doors and rolling down the windows. The car will also automatically contact Waymo’s Rider Support Staff to communicate via telephone with responding emergency personnel. Copies of insurance forms and registration are attached to the inside of the visors on both the driver and passenger side of the vehicle.

Waymo is just one example of how automakers are beginning to approach the concept of completely autonomous vehicles on our roadways. Ford, Toyota and General Motors are all testing driverless cars in similar fashion in cities around the country, including D.C., Miami and various spots in California. These automakers are working closely with police, firefighters and ambulance personnel in their test cities to figure out what area-specific problems their driverless technologies are most likely to encounter, allowing them to refine the technology and make it as safe as possible. As of right now, Waymo is the only driverless automaker to publish an official protocol for working with emergency personnel in the event of a police encounter or accident.

The Future is Now!

It’s a slow creep now, but no doubt in the next decade or so we’ll be seeing a lot more of these self-driving cars and cars equipped with “autopilot” features. Whether you use them or not, it’ll be important to stay up-to-date on all the latest news and laws that will be sure to come out as these cars hit the road. You can guarantee that the staff and attorneys at Ferrante, Dill and Hisle, LLC will be following this issue closely and studying up on any laws and regulations that may come forth. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at (410) 535-6100 or send us an email at info@ferrantedill.com.