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Road Rage in the Age of Self-Driving Cars

What happens if a self-driving car cuts you off?

It's not like you can flip-off the driver. Yelling won't do any good either, except perhaps to release some road rage.

It's a question that lawyers broached at the American Bar Association's midyear meeting in Florida. The program, broadcast through Legal Talk Network, focused on the challenge of road rage in the age of self-driving cars.

According to panelists, driverless cars are not the problem. They are part of the solution.

Angry About Traffic

Mike Suarez, a Tampa city councilman, said people naturally get angry in traffic. Tampa, he said, is the most congested city in Florida.

"Most people spend about 45 minutes in their vehicle getting into Tampa," he said. "They get angry."

Suarez said the solution involves reducing traffic, including better public transportation. He said cities can partner with bus and driverless car services to alleviate congestion.

"We need to have legal sufficiency for any of these ideas," he said. "Let's try to solve some of the issues before we get to them."

Transportation Solutions

Brian Willis, a lawyer on the panel, said road rage was born in traffic. He said that 30 to 40 years ago, roads were made for fewer drivers. Today, there are just too many people on those roads.

He said that driverless cars may help alleviate the problem because fewer people will need to own cars. Instead, they may share ownership with others in a form of ride-sharing.

"We're going to start to share ownership," he said. "You might buy a car and a half or a car and three quarters."

As more driverless cars take to the road, government will need more specific regulation for problems like road rage. Those laws will target drivers rather than driverless cars.

Signs Ahead

Recent studies suggest that people prone to road rage may get angry -- and even bully -- self-driving cars. The London School of Economics and Goodyear found that aggressive drivers are looking forward to driverless cars because it will be easier to take advantage of them in traffic.

"I'll be overtaking all the time because they'll be sticking to the rules," one respondent said in the study.

Meanwhile in the United States, thiry-four legislatures have considered laws for driverless cars. And last year, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration iissued updated guidance for the safe development of autonomous vehicles.

In any scenario, self-driving cars will not prevent road rage. If anyone gets angry behind the wheel, for sure it won't be a driver of an autonomous car.

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