AVs Are Hitting the Streets in Mississippi. Are We Fully Prepared?

AVs Are Hitting the Streets in Mississippi. Are We Fully Prepared? Autonomous vehicles hold the promise of transforming the streets of Mississippi, potentially addressing the challenges posed by unsafe driving practices. With their ability to adhere strictly to traffic rules, avoid collisions, and eliminate the risk of impaired driving, AVs could contribute to enhanced road safety. However, the state’s existing infrastructure may pose a significant hurdle to the seamless integration of AV technology.

In March of last year, Mississippi enacted new legislation through HB 1003, which allows for the operation of autonomous vehicles (AVs) ranging from Level 3 to 5. The law mandates that AVs have a safety mechanism to navigate to a secure position if the automated driving system fails. It requires compliance with state traffic and safety laws, submission of a law enforcement interaction plan by manufacturers, and operators to hold adequate insurance. The law, which became effective on July 1, 2023, also permits the operation of ride-hailing networks for driverless taxis, subject to standard regulations and licensing from the Mississippi Department of Insurance.

Levels of autonomy

With more AVs on our roads, now, it is important to understand what “automated” really entails. States have often relied on the classification system defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) when categorizing AV laws. SAE categorizes AVs into six levels:

  • Level 0. No automation, where all driving tasks are performed by a human driver.
  • Levels 1-2. Driver assistance features like steering support, brake support, and lane centering.
  • Level 3: Human drivers are not required to perform driving tasks when the automated system is engaged. However, they must take control when requested by the system.
  • Level 4: The car can independently drive under specific circumstances or in designated locations without human intervention.
  • Level 5: The car can perform all driving tasks in any situation, anywhere, without needing human interaction.

Truly autonomous vehicles fall into levels 3 or above. Mississippi’s new law means we will be seeing more level 3 or higher AVs on our roads, which leaves us wondering if the state’s poor infrastructure can handle these vehicles – or if these vehicles can handle our poor infrastructure.

How are Mississippi’s roads?

Mississippi’s roads are in trouble. According to a recent article published in the Leader-Call, “just over three-quarters of roads in Mississippi were in acceptable condition in 2000; now, 73.8% are.”

There is some good news: last year, thanks to federal funding, Mississippi was able to secure additional funds to fix the roads. The Mississippi Department of Transportation “received a total of nearly $2 billion, which includes a nearly $1.5 billion earmark-free appropriation as well as a $620 million supplemental appropriation. The additional funding will be spent on major construction projects, emergency road and bridge repair,” among other projects. Most of the projects (largely repaving, widening, realigning) will start this year. The concern, though, is that these projects all involve state and federal highways, not local roads – and we would bet money that AVs are going to be in use on local roads more than state roads.

Could AVs reduce traffic accidents on Mississippi roads?

Mississippi routinely ranks as one of – if not THE – worst states for driving. The Altoona Mirror says, based on fatal accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that we are the worst in the nation. The Leader-Call said our average of 26.2 deaths per 100,000 residents was the highest in the country. Forbes ranks Mississippi 18th because of drunk drivers. We cannot say what the statewide data shows because MDOT hasn’t updated their website in about 10 years – but back then, Mississippi had the fewest number of folks wearing seat belts.

With this in mind, it is possible that AVs could reduce traffic accidents. They have the benefit of avoiding many of the issues that humans face when driving. Once our roads are improved, AVs could improve the safety of Mississippi roads by reducing the number of drunk, distracted, and/or speeding drivers.

While AVs can make driving safer, there are still challenges to figure out, like making sure the technology works well, deciding on rules, and getting people comfortable with the idea of cars driving themselves. There are also some kinks to work out regarding pedestrians (especially children or darker-skinned folks) and liability in the event of a crash. It’s also important for people to drive responsibly, even with these new technologies.

At Merkel & Cocke, P.A., our dedicated team of Mississippi personal injury attorneys is deeply committed to the safety of Mississippi’s roads. If you’ve been involved in an accident due to poor infrastructure conditions or have fallen victim to a reckless driver, rest assured that we are here to handle your case with the utmost diligence and skill. Our priority is to advocate for your rights, seek compensation for damages, and ensure that those responsible are held accountable. With a focus on providing personalized and comprehensive legal support, we stand ready to navigate the complexities of your case and pursue justice on your behalf. To schedule a free consultation, call our office or submit our contact form. We have offices in Jackson, Clarksdale, Greenville, and Oxford.