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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hands Free Vehicles Legal For Now

Over the years, we have reported on the self-driving Google vehicles and the telematics associated with removing a human driver from the highway experience.  Now, several vehicle manufacturers are bringing hands-free driving options on-line in the upcoming months.

Tessla, Audi and Cadillac are all rolling-out serious hands-free options within the next model year. Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti have had limited versions of hands-free driving for the past few years.

As these options expand, the question becomes: is operating a vehicle "hands-free" legal?  So far, the answer is "yes".

Only New York has a state law, dating back to 1967, that requires that drivers keep one-hand on the wheel. Most other states have no regulation whatsoever regarding the specifics of the steering wheel.

The manufacturers are careful to market the hands-free options merely as temporary relief from the tedious components of our daily drive and not as a way for drivers to completely unplug from the road. This blogger, however, immediately sees the potential to switch on the hands-free option in order to, say, text or email the drive away and get things done.

If this happens, the law will move in; especially as soon as folks start getting seriously injured or killed.  For now, however, the manufacturers are easing these hands-free options into a regulatory void.

Industry professionals consider hands-free driving just the next step in the design evolution of the automobile. Like past innovations such as cruise control and anti-lock brakes, there are no specific government regulations affecting the technology.

But there is a personal injury bar. Once folks start clicking on the hands-free option, tuning out from the road, and picking-up their cell phones, things are bound to go South.  And when they do, the personal injury lawyers will be there to pick-up the pieces.

While the federal government regulates the design and crash-worthiness of vehicles, the states regulate the drivers. Here in Michigan, the home of the automobile, there are specific state laws allowing autonomous technology under certain limited circumstances.

In addition to negligent design product liability lawsuits, there is also local law enforcement standing by to temper the hands-free driving experience.  The road patrol officer will decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether the driver in a crash was at fault [careless or reckless] due to hands-free operation of the vehicle.

Once these vehicles begin rolling out, and crashes start happening, we will know more about the utility and cost-effectiveness of this next step in the evolution of the automobile.

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