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Could automated systems have prevented Metro-North derailment?

Two weeks ago, we told our readers about the fatal train derailment in the Bronx that killed four people and injured another 67 more passengers. As many of our frequent readers know, we brought up the very real question of liability and postulated at the end of the post that the driver of the train could be held liable if negligence was discovered. Now that the investigation has turned up the fact that the conductor may have dozed off while manning the train, this could turn into criminal as well as civil litigation in the weeks to come.

But as some of our readers may be realizing, this crash not only brings up concerns about inattentive drivers but also whether certain automated systems should be used to prevent such accidents from happening in the first place. According to the Associated Press, in an article written for My Fox NY, an automatic breaking system could have prevented the crash had it been installed on the track just prior to the curve that derailed the train. This safety system would have recognized that the train’s speed was too fast for the curve and would have adjusted the train’s speed accordingly.

While most people would agree that there is no substitute for a human operator behind the controls of a motor vehicle, as the train derailment here in New York shows, perhaps this isn’t always the case.  New technologies such as Google’s self-driving car could prove incredibly beneficial in situations where a driver is fatigued or impaired and cannot operate the vehicle safely.  But it’s important to point out that while these new automated technologies could prevent many of the serious accidents we see in states across the nation, these technologies also bring up questions about liability and whether a victim can seek compensation in the event that the system fails.  While this technology has a long way to go in terms of catching up with laws, it’s possible that it could have prevented the recent train derailment and saved people’s lives in the meantime.

Source: CNN News, "Man vs. machine: Who should be at the wheel?" Ray Sanchez and Thom Patterson, Dec. 8, 2013

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