DC Releases Huge Trove of Crash Data

Last month, the DC Department of Transportation released a trove of collision data.  The DC DOT and Metropolitan Police Department have a history of sharing information about collisions in the District of Columbia, often through periodic reports.  But this data release is different in that provides information about individual crash report incidents taken by Metropolitan Police Department officers.  So instead of a statistical summary, what you see is individual collisions mapped onto the streets of DC, one collision at a time.

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Great Idea: Using Social Media or Online Forums to Warn of Defects and Dangerous Conditions

By Cory Bilton

Memorial Bridge 1

“We didn’t know it was dangerous.” This is the response you will get in almost every case involving a dangerous product or hazardous condition that causes someone to be injured. Whether we are talking about faulty ignition switches, contaminated spinach, or uneven pavement, the initial response is nearly always that the danger was not known. Without knowledge of the danger, there was no way to prevent the harm. So the argument goes.

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There is Only an “Emergency Stop” Button in Google’s Second Generation Driverless Car

By Cory Bilton

Google Driverless Car

In case you haven’t been following along, Google is developing a driverless car. While other groups and researchers are also building autonomous vehicles, Google’s project has created the most buzz by far. Up until recently, Google’s driverless car was a Toyota Prius with various pieces of equipment, sensors and laser radar, mounted on it. Recently, Google unveiled the next generation of its driverless car, pictured above. This version is a specially built vehicle with all of the equipment incorporated right into the car itself. As I’ve blogged before, one of the puzzling questions is what is the legal duty of the occupant of a Google car?

The second-generation Google car has thrown a wrench in the works on this issue: the car has no steering wheel. There is, however, still an “emergency stop” button in this new version of Google car.

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As Computers Take Over Transportation, Liability Threatens

By Cory Bilton.

Foggy Bottom Metro Sign

Transportation has incorporated new technologies for centuries now. But the newest technologies are increasingly removing humans from the equation, at least as far as driving or controlling vehicles. Last month I wrote about some of the legal challenges facing autonomous vehicles when they are released to the public. This week, I ran across two other instances where legal liability greatly limited computer controlled technology in our cars and public transportation. These examples illustrate not only some of the challenges that I think autonomous vehicles will face, but also present a cautionary tale that new technology does not necessarily perform better than a human would.

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Autonomous Cars Pose Legal Challenges

By Cory Bilton.

I-66 from Custis Overpass 1 - Aug 2014

Cars that can drive themselves are the wave of the future. Google has been developing a driverless car for years now. In the Washington DC area, local politicians and newspaper reporters are being entertained by autonomous car researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. The idea of removing the human from actively controlling and maneuvering the car is appealing. After all, most accidents are the result of human inattention, aggression, or error. The promise is that autonomous vehicles will greatly reduce, or maybe even eliminate, the effects of those human failings.

But this utopia is not guaranteed, and the path from all vehicles being driven by humans to having all vehicles driven by computers might be a little rough. Here are three issues where autonomous vehicles pose a significant challenge to the legal system:

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Lawmakers Scramble to Classify E-bikes as Bicycles

By Cory Bilton.

Banneker Park 1 - Aug 2014

It could have been a television commercial. On my way home from work one night this week, I was riding on the Custis Trail heading west up the hill from Rosslyn. For those unfamiliar with this particular hill, it’s a long slog; Google Maps reports that it is about 1 mile of distance and 161 feet of elevation gain from the trail when it leaves the Potomac, to the top of the hill where Lee Highway crosses I-66. Not the steepest hill on my ride home, but a little grueling. I typically ride up the hill with as much vigor as I can muster and so by the time I reach the top I’m completely out of breath and dripping sweat. On Monday night this week, near the top of the hill (and near dead), I was passed by a woman wearing office clothes pedaling a bicycle and showing no hint of any effort or discomfort. And when I say she passed me, I mean, she whizzed past me.

The woman was riding an electric bike, or e-bike. For the most part, an e-bike looks just like a normal bicycle. But an e-bike is equipped with a small, battery powered electric motor that assists the rider, particularly on uphill climbs. The motor is not supposed to replace pedaling, like with a moped, but rather just to supplement pedaling. The day after my encounter, an article in the NY Times remarked on the growing popularity of e-bikes in bike-loving Europe. Although I haven’t seen many e-bikes in the Washington, DC area, I think they could become a hit.

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