Autonomous Vehicles May Be Introduced In the District of Columbia

April 16, 2014

A couple of states in the United States have begun to legalize the operation of autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles are also known as driveless cars, driver-free cars and self-driving cars. By Autonomous it is meant that a vehicle is capable of fulfilling the human transportation capabilities of a traditional car. An autonomous vehicle is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input or interaction. These vehicles sense their surroundings with the use of radars, GPS and computer vision. It is with these tools that the vehicle is able to navigate through streets as well as obstacles on the road. These vehicles keep track of their position even when conditions change in their surroundings.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established an official classification system for Autonomous vehicles. The 5 levels are as follows:

Level 0: Drivers completely control the vehicle at all times;

Level 1: Individual vehicle controls are automated, such as electronic stability control or automatic braking;

Level 2: Two or more controls can be automated in unison, such as cruise control in combination with lane keeping; and

Level 3: The driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and providers a sufficiently comfortable transition time for the driver to do so.

Level 4: The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions.

These autonomous vehicles may be introduced in the District of Columbia in the coming weeks since new rules were introduced last week. The District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles published a set of new guidelines last Friday, in accordance with the Autonomous Vehicle Act of 2012, to allow drivers to obtain licenses for self-driving vehicles, and if there are no objections, will go into effect in 30 days. If this goes into effect, the District of Columbia would be the first jurisdiction to license self-driving operators. The process to obtain these special self-driving operator licenses is as simple as taking a self-driver training seminar, filling out the proper paperwork and paying the $20 fee. The application process means that each person trying to obtain this special license needs to acknowledge that they will be deemed the “Driver” of the vehicle while it is operating in autonomous mode, and are therefore responsible for speeding, rolling thru stop signs, and missing or passing thru traffic signals. This means that they are subject to the same traffic laws that non-autonomous cars and drivers have to follow.

Each applicant will also have to complete a training seminar and obtain certification in the operation of autonomous vehicles. These courses will be provided by self-driving car dealerships and manufacturers. Once the course is completed, forms executed, license fee paid and license obtained, each driver will have a new “A” printed on their license to show that they are certified to operate an autonomous vehicle. Once the operator is issued a license the final step is to apply for a special license plate that will only be used for self-driving cars.

Some of the advantages of autonomous vehicles are that fewer traffic accidents and collisions will happen, due to the system’s increased reliability and faster reaction time compared to human drivers, roadway capacity will increase and traffic congestion decreased due to the reduced need for safety gaps and the ability to better manage traffic flow, relief of vehicle occupants from driving, higher speed limits, removal of constraints on occupants’ state, due to the fact that the drivers age, blindness, distractedness, intoxication or other impairment will not matter, and alleviation of parking scarcity, are a few of the advantages of autonomous vehicles.

Some of the obstacles however are Liability for damages, software reliability, resistance for individuals to give up control of their vehicles, Cyber security, the implementation of legal framework and the establishment of government regulations for self-driving cars, drivers will become less experienced when manual driving is needed and the loss of driver related jobs.

What Is Personal Injury Law

April 10, 2014

What is Personal Injury Law: It is a legal term or an injury to the body, mind or emotions. It covers physical injuries, mental injuries and death that result from the negligence or intentional misconduct of another person, group of individuals, or entity. The most common types of personal injury claims are automobile traffic accidents, accidents in the workplace, slip & fall or tripping accidents, assault claims, accidents in the home and defective products. Also, included in the personal injury realm are medical and dental accidents, which can lead to medical negligence claims.

Depending on how bad the injury to the person is and the level of intent or negligence of the responsible party, the injured person may be entitled to monetary compensation from the at fault party through a settlement or a judgment.

Most personal injury attorneys represent their clients on a contingency basis or a contingency fee retainer agreement. This means that the attorney’s fee is a percentage of the plaintiff’s (injured party) eventual monetary compensation, payable to the attorney, once the case is resolved and settled, with no payment necessary if the case is unsuccessful. Also, when in this type of contract with a personal injury attorney, the attorney will pay all upfront costs and fees, which can include costs for obtaining medical records, copies, postage, faxes, correspondence, and obtaining police reports. These upfront costs and fees are reimbursed back to the attorney once the case settles and is separate then the attorney’s fee for representation.

Damages: Damages are categorized as either special and/or general. Special costs are measured and itemized to include medical expenses, loss of earnings, property damage and other out-of-pockets expenses. General costs are less measurable such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium and emotional distress. Personal injury claims include and consider both special and general damages when a claim is submitted to an at fault party.

The amount of compensation for special and general damages in a personal injury claim depends on the severity of the injury, the amount of treatment received and whether or not an injury is permanent in nature. The worse the injury is, the greater the compensation.

Time Limitations: In the United States, each state has different Statutes of Limitations – laws that determine how much time you have to file a legal claim. Different types of injuries have different statutes of limitations. In Maryland and the District of Columbia the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations to file a claim is 3 years from the date of accident and in Virginia it is 2 years from the date of accident.

Personal Injury Claim Settlements are not taxable. Therefore; any monies awarded on a personal injury claim you do not have to claim on your taxes. The official statement from the IRS states:

“If you receive a settlement for personal physical injuries or physical sickness and did not take an itemized deduction for medical expenses related to the injury or sickness in prior years, the full amount is non-taxable. Do not include the settlement proceeds in your income.”