Driverless Taxis Coming to Southern California
Whether or not the technology is ready for prime time, Waymo is anxious to break into the lucrative Los Angeles market, so driverless taxis are on their way.
Google parent company Alphabet owns Waymo, which already operates a few driverless cabs in San Francisco and Phoenix. The company started using human drivers to map Los Angeles in 2019. Now, it says, it’s ready to begin service downtown, Santa Monica, the Miracle Mile, Koreatown, and West Hollywood. “L.A. is in the top three ride-hailing markets in the United States and globally,” remarked Waymo CPO Saswat Panigrahi. “The commercial opportunity is huge,” he added. The company didn’t say how many driverless taxis will have on-board backup drivers.
Cruise, a General Motors subdivision, already operates a robo taxi service in San Francisco with no backup driver aboard. Officials are investigating the company after receiving an anonymous letter from a reputed Cruise employee who said the technology was not ready for public release. In September, Cruise recalled cars after a passenger was injured in a crash.
First Party Liability
When driverless taxis crash, the manufacturer is responsible for damages, at least in most cases. When other taxis crash, the driver is liable for compensation, once again at least in most cases.
Defective products or angry hackers usually cause driverless vehicle crashes. The defective product is usually related to:
- Design Defect: Waymo and most other companies are eager to put new products on the market, so they can start making money. As a result, they often overlook dangerous design flaws and hope no one gets hurt and, more importantly, hope no one finds out.
- Manufacturing Defect: Some companies take shortcuts later, during the manufacturing process. Overseas parts from countries with no wage or hour laws are usually quite cheap. These countries usually don’t have consumer protection laws either. So, the parts and products that come from such countries may be inexpensive, but they’re also often unsafe.
Companies are strictly liable for the injuries their defective products cause. So, a Los Angeles personal injury attorney doesn’t have to prove negligence or fault to obtain compensation for victims.
This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Many taxi drivers are notorious aggressive. Drivers get paid by the mile and not by the hour. So, they try to deliver their passengers to their destination as quickly as possible. Some specific kinds of aggressive driving include:
- Making an unsafe turn,
- Speeding, and
- Ignoring a traffic control device.
If the aggressive driving caused a wreck, and that aggressive driving was negligence, or a lack of care, a Los Angeles personal injury attorney may obtain the aforementioned compensation.
Driver impairment causes about half of the vehicle collisions in California. Fatigued driving may be the biggest problem among taxi drivers. After a long day of driving a cab and fussing with passengers, some fatigue is natural. Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s above the legal limit for commercial operators in California.
Sometimes, fatigue has nothing to do with the amount of awake jours. Most people are naturally drowsy early in the morning and late at night, no matter how much rest they had the night before. That’s especially true if the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) daily schedule recently changed.
Reserve operator driverless taxi crashes are especially complex. A defective product may have caused the wreck. Then again, a backup driver’s negligent failure to assume control of the vehicle might be responsible for the wreck.
Third Party Liability
As mentioned, taxi owners are usually responsible for defective product-related wrecks. The only effective defense is the unforeseeable misuse doctrine, a defense that only applies in a few cases.
Similarly, taxi companies are often financially responsible for driver-caused wrecks, under the respondeat superior rule. This legal doctrine has two basic prongs:
- Scope of Employment: Backup drivers must take control of vehicles in emergencies. Primary drivers must safely operate motor vehicles. Under California law, any activity remotely related to these responsibilities is within the scope of employment.
- Employee: Most taxi drivers, and most commercial operators in general, are non-employees for tax purposes. However, they’re usually employees for negligence purposes, because their employers have some control over driver activities.
Unlike strict liability cases, respondeat superior cases may involve contributory negligence and other negligence defenses. If a Los Angeles personal injury attorney collects an above-average amount of evidence, and has above-average advocacy skills, these defenses usually aren’t a problem. Vehicle collisions usually cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Los Angeles personal injury lawyer, contact the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.
Credit: Photo by "Documerica" on Unsplash
Sharona Eslamboly Hakim, Esq. is a successful personal injury attorney and the principal of the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim firm in Beverly Hills, California.