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Could Hackers Take over Your Vehicle and Cause an Accident?

As if South Florida drivers don't have enough to worry about, thanks to all of the wireless technology in later-model vehicles, our cars (or those of others sharing the road with us) can be hacked. While sometimes this is done just to make mischief, such as messing with the driver's music, the results could be tragic.

Hackers can take control of the braking, steering and other systems. They can also change the speed of the vehicle, potentially sending it careening down the interstate at a dangerous speed.

Hacking experts who are using their skills for good have demonstrated how it's possible to access a vehicle's computer system (such as the UConnect system found in Jeep Cherokees and other vehicles), plant a malicious code in the firmware and essentially take over the vehicle remotely.

The good news is that automakers and UConnect say they are working to help protect drivers from a nightmare scenario by fixing vulnerabilities to hacking. However, consumers may need to take the initiative to find out if there is a patch or an update for their vehicle's computer system. These may involve recalls.

The problem has also caught the attention of legislators. Two U.S. senators are working to create federal standards as well as ratings for "connected" cars. These ratings would help consumers determine whether their computer system is vulnerable to safety as well as privacy issues.

Fiat Chrysler, which makes Jeeps, noted in a statement that despite the fact that hacking experts were able to take over one of their vehicles, it knows of no "real world incident of an unlawful or unauthorized remote hack."

Aside from the obvious safety concerns that the potential for hacking a vehicle causes, it also raises the issue of who can be held liable if a "hacked" vehicle causes personal injury or damage to those in the vehicle or others on the road. With the technology for self-driving vehicles making progress, the advances that have made driving less stressful are necessitating a look at legal issues no one could have imagined a generation ago.

Source: ABC News, "Car Hacking: What Every Connected Driver Needs to Know," Alyssa Newcomb, July 22, 2015

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