As this year’s Consumer electronics show is in full swing, many are buzzing about new models of self-driving cars that are being displayed by car companies. Self-driving cars, for those who are unfamiliar, are cars that are programmed with advanced sensors and navigation technology so that the vehicle can drive itself without the constant attention of the human driver.

Proponents of self-driving cars tout various benefits like decreased emissions, which would be made possible by programming the cars to drive more efficiently than humans generally do. Some also say that traffic will decrease, as rear-end collisions and other minor scuffles that clog up our highways during rush hour dissipate.

Others are concerned that the technology is not reliable enough to prevent accidents and that computer malfunctions could give way to greater danger for those on the road.

A recent study says that in the near future the technology will likely improve to the point that these cars are widely available on the market as a luxury model, with many able to switch between a manual driving mode and a self-driving mode. Estimates place the popularity of self-driving cars hitting a mass audience in 2035. By the year 2050, nearly all cars sold will have an optional autonomous mode, according to the study.

As with other new technology, the law will have to adapt to find ways to properly regulate these vehicles. One interesting element will be determining who is responsible for a car accident that occurs when a self-driving car crashes into another vehicle. The main question will be whether the technological malfunction and therefore the manufacturer is to blame, or if it was the driver who failed to prevent a crash once the hazard became apparent.

Source: NBC News, “Self-driving cars popular by mid-century: study,” Paul A. Elsenstein, Jan. 6, 2013.