Godwin, Morris, Laurenzi & Bloomfield, P.C.

How soon will driverless technology take to the water?

It's only a matter of time before automated technology becomes common on land, air and sea. While driverless cars are getting most of the attention, companies are also exploring driverless technology on ships.

Executives at Rolls-Royce predict that within a decade, automated ships will be common in seas across the world, and automated ferries and tugs may be making short journeys within just a few years, according to a recent article in IEEE Spectrum.

Just as with driverless cars, there's a widespread belief that automated technology will make ships safer by removing the potential for human error. According to data cited in the IEEE article, human error is the primary cause of the vast majority of maritime accidents.

Mariners shouldn't worry about being put out of a job, at least not for a while. Experienced mariners will still be needed to control vessels remotely and stand by on board to take the helm if necessary.

For maritime workers on other more traditional vessels, sharing waterways with autonomous vessels raises some of the same questions drivers have about sharing the roads with driverless cars. Two of the big ones:

  • What are the risks?
  • What happens if someone gets hurt?

Liability in an accident still seems to be a big unknown, and it's something that maritime regulators will have to address as companies develop autonomous ships. Luckily, the Jones Act and other maritime laws covers maritime workers hurt at work under a wide range of circumstances. It's important for injured mariners to work with an attorney who understands the interplay between developments in maritime law and maritime technology.

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