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Driving and the Law: Where Is America Heading?

— June 28, 2019

As new technologies and services take hold, driving and the law are changing.

In our modern digital age, driving is more nuanced than ever. With the advent of autonomous vehicles and the popularity of ride sharing, numerous questions open up regarding auto insurance and liability. Other legal issues are cropping up as well thanks to the widespread legalization of recreational marijuana, and the implementation of traffic cameras in many U.S. cities. So what do you need to know about driving and the law in 2019? This article will detail current and future legal considerations when it comes to driving and the law in the United States, of which laws may vary internationally.

Driving Under the Influence

Most drivers understand the dangers of driving under the influence, yet the practice remains common across the U.S. According to A Better Today Recovery Services, alcohol-related traffic accidents claim 28 lives across the U.S. on a daily basis, and about 13,000 lives are lost annually at the hands of impaired drivers.  

But drunk driving isn’t the only form of impaired driving. Impairment could be due to prescription pills, marijuana, or other illicit drugs. In states where marijuana is legal, however, what is the definition of impairment? How is impairment determined?

Colorado is one of 10 states dealing with these questions. Recreational marijuana use became legal in the state in 2014, and law enforcement has had to deal with the challenges of legalization since that time. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation reports that any amount of marijuana consumption puts you at risk of driving impaired. The legal limit in Colorado is five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the bloodstream. However, law enforcement may use obvious signs of impairment, such as swerving, speeding, or the smell of marijuana as the basis for a DUI charge. 

Ride Sharing and Traffic Violations

Recreational marijuana is changing the law enforcement landscape, but so is ride sharing. The practice of ride sharing, where an individual uses an app to request a ride from a stranger, is becoming more and more widespread across the U.S. Statista data indicates that 53 percent of Americans have used a rideshare service in the past year. And Uber, the most popular rideshare service, has a global net revenue of $7.5 billion.

Yellow taxi driving down street, scenery blurred; image by @gehartyler, via
Yellow taxi driving down street, scenery blurred; image by @gehartyler, via

Common traffic accident types include rear-end collisions and single-vehicle accidents, and rideshare services are not immune to the hazards of the road. Legally, rideshare services are classified as software companies rather than a taxi service. So what if your rideshare vehicle is involved in an accident? Is the driver at fault, or the service itself? And how are rideshare services regulated and monitored?

Some states, including Michigan, have certain requirements for rideshare drivers. In Michigan, a rideshare driver’s vehicle must be no more than 15 years old, have four doors, and be protected with personal Michigan no-fault auto insurance. Uber and Lyft have their own $1 million minimum insurance coverage in place, so riders can rest assured that they are covered if their rideshare driver is found to be at-fault for an accident.

Autonomous Vehicles and Robotics

Along with revolutionizing the private transportation industry, ride-sharing companies are also experimenting with self-driving cars. The safety of these types of vehicles is still under debate, and fatalities involving a self-driving Uber car have already been reported, when an autonomous vehicle struck and killed a bicyclist. Legal professionals claim that, if the components of the autonomous vehicle are faulty, the vehicle manufacturer itself could be at fault, rather than the rideshare service, under the principles of product liability. 

Autonomy and product liability also come into play when it comes to speed and red light cameras. As of December 2018, 24 states and the District of Columbia have red light cameras operating at at least one location, while 13 states have passed laws that prohibit the use of speed and/or red light cameras. 

Speed and red light cameras use automated technology to determine if a vehicle is operating illegally. If a driver is determined to be speeding or runs a red light, the camera notes the offending vehicle’s license plate and sends a traffic ticket in the mail to the driver’s address on file. 

But these cameras can be faulty, like any machine, hence the laws prohibiting their use in some states. However, speed cameras enjoy widespread use in other countries. India, for example, has found that the use of speed cameras may reduce roadway fatalities. 

Autonomous technology is also being used with drones, which come with their own questions regarding liability. Much like autonomous vehicles, how do we account for accidents involving drones, since they often come as a result of technical difficulties? Who is responsible: the company that made the drone, or the person controlling the drone? These are some of the questions we must ask into the future. 

From rideshare to autonomous vehicles, modern technology is changing the way Americans get around. Changing laws, such as those surrounding recreational marijuana, equals change in policies and overall mindset. But questions of liability linger, and it remains to be seen just how great an impact autonomy and legal changes will have on America’s roadways. 

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