Is it wrong to assume that self-driving cars won't have safety or design defects?

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Earlier today, we wrote about a new law in Tennessee, named in honor of Lara Gass, who lost her life in an auto accident caused by a major defect in her used Saturn Ion. (The defect was in the ignition switch, which would turn off the brakes, power steering, and airbags, without warning.) Ms. Gass bought her vehicle used through a dealer, but was not made aware of the existing recall for the defective ignition switch.

Lara's Law, which recently passed in Senate Committee with amendments, will require Tennessee auto dealers to check for recalls prior to sale, and to fix the car if there is a recall.

Need we fear defects in self-driving cars?

At the same time that we have this new Tennessee bill to correct for auto defects and ignored recalls, we have lawmakers in Michigan with other auto-related bills, only these concern autonomous vehicles.

According to U.S. News and World Report, new laws there could "push the state to the forefront of autonomous vehicle development." These laws allow automakers (and Google, Uber, et. al.) to test self-driving cars on public roads that do not come equipped with steering wheels.

A car with no steering wheel is probably the clearest indication of the future - but that in itself doesn't eliminate concern over defects.

On the other hand

In hindsight, it makes sense that Michigan would seek to be at the forefront of the industry, given its Detroit roots in auto manufacturing. Of course, there's money and industry. But there are other major benefits. Presuming all the bugs are ironed out, autonomous tech could save lives.

Computers do not get sleepy, don't text, and don't drive impaired.

But the defective ignition switch that caused the death of Ms. Gass is just one of many auto defect cases that we've seen in our nation's history over decades. Self-driving cars could be wonderful for reducing the number of people who lose their lives in car accidents, but we're not likely to see the end of defects, even in a completely autonomous world.

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