While public safety experts have lauded the move toward self-driven vehicles, this technology has generally focused on vehicles navigating city streets and highways under routine driving conditions. A new technology recently unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas takes the notion of autonomous cars to the next level with an innovation from BMW called “ActiveAssist®,” which is designed to assist drivers under difficult driving conditions rather than just a comfortable jaunt around town according to a USA Today report.

A BMW spokesperson explained that ActiveAssist® technology is designed to do more than simply navigate city streets under routine conditions. Rather, this autonomous driving technology is intended to provide precise control “up to the vehicle’s dynamic limit.” The vehicle can operate with exceptional precision even at high rates of speed according to BMW. The USA Today report indicates that BMW engineers tested the vehicle’s ability to handle hydroplaning on a wet road surface, swerving into an adjacent lane to avoid a crash and navigating a slalom course. The new technology is designed to provide assistance to drivers under the most difficult driving conditions.

This new technology is not only designed to prevent car crashes by handling tough road and traffic hazards but also adjusts for serious driving errors by motorists. BMW has indicated that their version of the autonomous driving technology is designed to allow drivers to regain control of a vehicle even after a driver overcompensates when engaging in evasive maneuvers causing a loss of control of the vehicle. The system automatically uses acceleration, braking and steering adjustments to allow the driver to bring the vehicle back under control. While autonomous cars that could have the ability to drive you to the office or worksite as your read the newspaper could inundate our roadways by 2020, this new ActiveAssist® technology may be tested in trials on the roads of Europe by 2015.

Many traffic safety experts laud the move toward autonomous vehicles as an effective way to remove human error from the driving equation. The theory is that these types of technology might eventually provide the most effective solution to traffic collision hazards like distracted drivers, DUI/DWI, speeding and other forms of unsafe driving, the technology presents new challenges in terms of determining liability when collisions involving these vehicle occur. In some cases, the technology may malfunction creating the basis for a product liability claim while in other situations drivers may have a duty to override autonomous driving controls in response to a malfunction. While the potential safety benefits of autonomous vehicles may be commendable, safe driving practices and liability rules need to keep pace with this evolving technology.

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