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Could frivolous lawsuits stop self-driving takeover in US?

They've long been the stuff of science fiction, but a new study predicts that once they come to market in the near future, autonomous vehicles will rapidly become a popular reality.

"Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Cars—Not If, But When" predicts that by 2035 self-driving cars, or SDCs, will account for half of the vehicles sold in North America. Sales worldwide will reach about 11.8 million, according to IHS Automotive, which prepared the report. The consulting firm predicts that almost all vehicles will offer an autonomous mode by 2050.

(Read more: Lackluster sales don't faze automakers)

Officials at Nissan Motor recently promised to put its first autonomous vehicles into production by 2020, and a number of other makers have since made similar announcements. The IHS report notes that the first generation of these vehicles will in fact require a human to sit at the ready in case the technology develops a problem—much like an aircraft autopilot. But it anticipates that truly independent SDCs requiring no human involvement will begin to be offered by 2030.

The study predicts that demand will rise as the technology improves.

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Not everyone is so confident, though, and there's an ongoing debate about where autonomous vehicles will first come to market.

Andy Palmer, executive vice president at Nissan Motor and its global products czar, recently cautioned that because of the litigious nature of the American market, manufacturers "might" have to steer clear of the U.S. unless legislators take steps to protect the industry from a flood of frivolous lawsuits.


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