On July 1, 2016 Florida became the first state in the country to allow fully autonomous vehicles to be operated on public roads without the need for a driver behind the wheel. Under the law, codified in Florida Statue 316.003(2), an “Autonomous vehicle” is defined as:

“Any vehicle equipped with autonomous technology. The term “autonomous technology” means technology installed on a motor vehicle that has the capability to drive the vehicle on which the technology is installed without the active control or monitoring by a human operator. The term excludes a motor vehicle enabled with active safety systems or driver assistance systems, including, without limitation, a system to provide electronic blind spot assistance, crash avoidance, emergency braking, parking assistance, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assistance, lane departure warning, or traffic jam and queuing assistant, unless any such system alone or in combination with other systems enables the vehicle on which the technology is installed to drive without active control or monitoring by a human operator.”

Operation is allowed by Florida Statute 316.85 if the vehicle is equipped as stated above and “a person shall be deemed to be the operator of an autonomous vehicle operating in autonomous mode when the person causes the vehicle’s autonomous technology to engage, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the vehicle while the vehicle is operating in autonomous mode.”

From a liability standpoint, this essentially means that even though the vehicle may be driving itself through the use of “technology” the person that “engaged” that technology is considered the driver. To do that the person operating the vehicle in autonomous mode must possess a valid driver license. That means you can’t put your children in the car and have it drive them around.

There are several requirements for a vehicle to meet the Autonomous criteria and those are codified in Florida Statute 319.145 which states:

(1) An autonomous vehicle registered in this state must continue to meet applicable federal standards and regulations for such motor vehicle. The vehicle must:

(a) Have a system to safely alert the operator if an autonomous technology failure is detected while the autonomous technology is engaged. When an alert is given, the system must:

1. Require the operator to take control of the autonomous vehicle; or

2. If the operator does not, or is not able to, take control of the autonomous vehicle, be capable of bringing the vehicle to a complete stop.

(b) Have a means, inside the vehicle, to visually indicate when the vehicle is operating in autonomous mode.

Anticipating that owners of older non-autonomous vehicles may want to modify their vehicles to become autonomous; the Florida Legislature built in a legal exemption from liability for the original vehicle manufacturer.

Under Florida Statute 316.86:

“The original manufacturer of a vehicle converted by a third party into an autonomous vehicle is not liable in, and shall have a defense to and be dismissed from, any legal action brought against the original manufacturer by any person injured due to an alleged vehicle defect caused by the conversion of the vehicle, or by equipment installed by the converter, unless the alleged defect was present in the vehicle as originally manufactured.”

That means if there is a crash or malfunction, recourse would be against the operator or the entity responsible for the conversion.

If you’ve been injured by an autonomous vehicle in Florida it’s very important to know your rights under the law. For a free consultation to determine if you have a case, give us a call today at (954) 913-CASE (2273) or visit us at www.CutlerRader.com.


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