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Autonomous vehicle makers questioned over forced arbitration

Lawmakers including New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have asked companies involved in the development of autonomous vehicle technology to clarify their positions on forced arbitration agreements. Questions have been asked about the safety of self-driving cars in the wake of an accident in Arizona involving an autonomous Uber SUV that claimed the life of a pedestrian. Media reports suggest that Uber's terms of service would prevent individuals injured in such a crash from pursuing civil lawsuits.

Manufacturers favor arbitration clauses because they avoid costly litigation and prevent plaintiffs from filing class action lawsuits, but advocacy groups say that these provisions unfairly favor big business. Legislation currently being considered in Congress would allow companies like General Motors, Tesla and Google to sell up to 80,000 autonomous vehicles in the United States each year, but the bill does not address the issue of forced arbitration.

According to reports, a letter signed by 10 senators has been sent to 60 companies working on self-driving cars asking whether or not they have forced arbitration clauses in place or plan to introduce them in the future. Supporters of the technology says that it has the potential to eliminate human error on the roads and save thousands of lives each year. The issue is a pressing one because several manufacturers have vowed to introduce a fully autonomous vehicle within five years.

While vehicles featuring no driver controls may still be years away, safety systems that can take over the driving duties in emergency situations to prevent car crashes are already available. These systems gather and store vast amounts of data about road conditions and driver behavior, and this information may be used by accident investigators and experienced personal injury attorneys to find out what occurred in the moments prior to a collision. This kind of electronic data could also be used to establish negligent behavior in lawsuits filed on behalf of accident victims.

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