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Who Is Liable If an Autonomous Vehicle Kills or Injures Someone?

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The Social Dilemma of Self-Driving Cars

Self-Driving Cars: Present and Future

The first proposed federal law governing self-driving cars is meeting resistance from local government as a possible overreach of federal powers. The federal bill would set a national standard of regulation for self-driving cars, barring local government from enacting more prohibitions on self-driving cars.

Critics say the vague language could lead the industry to sue states over any regulations they consider overly burdensome.

“If Congress preempts state and local governments from enacting smart safety protections, the adoption of this amazing technology could be unnecessarily delayed by court challenges and state legislative action,” said Leah Treat, Director of the Transportation Bureau in Portland, Oregon, according to Reuters.

Should autonomous cars be programmed to prioritize the needs of the many over the few?

Should autonomous cars be programmed to prioritize the needs of the many over the few?

A Moral Dilemma

Currently, a driverless car is considered legally the same as a human driver. But what does that mean? Google's software, not the human passenger, is considered to be the "driver."

A precedent of the federal court's decision perhaps stemmed from the Toyota case of unintended acceleration that resulted in a class action lawsuit where existing product liability regulations were able to sort who or what is at fault. Strict liability means no matter if meatware, software, or hardware, you the person in the car is first in liability before all other considerations because car accident victims are not expected to go after a manufacturer for recompense.

What if a driverless auto was requested to drive during a snowstorm because the parent needs to pick up their child at a school that is closing early due to weather conditions? Does the car refuse to even start, leaving the child stranded at school? Volvo and Google have stated that California and Nevada, the only two states that allow driverless cars on public highways, will accept liability unless the commuter used the automation improperly, such as overriding safety devices.

License and registration, please!

License and registration, please!

Car Bots Not Ready for Autopilot

Car bots have five times more accidents than regular cars, but the manufacturers say the bots weren't at fault. They say the bots were operating under the assumption that the other vehicles would slow down for them in order to avoid a collision. Isn't that an all too human excuse?

“Officer, I swerved five times because I was trying to avoid hitting that tree that jumped in front of me.”

The "trolley problem" is an ethical thought experiment

The "trolley problem" is an ethical thought experiment

The Trolley Problem

We Need a Catchier Name

The name we give to what I call "car bots" will probably sound as quaint and antiquated in the future as "horseless carriages" sound to us today.

Driverless car, self-driving car, automated car, autonomous vehicle, and robotic vehicle all sound so clunky—and auto-auto is not that much better. Please comment below on what you think would be a short, easy name for these cars of the future.

Thank you for reading my article.

Further Reading


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Primpo from Bayville,NJ on December 01, 2017:

That is something I never thought of. I was always not a fan of self driving cars. I like to be in control, but this makes my decision more adamant. I would rather have the final decision even though I know I would sacrifice myself if it were the only choice, but I wouldn't' want the car to make that decision for me. We are not really an automated country as it were. Aren't humans controlling the machines? Why did Swoden move out of the country again? There is something bigger going on, I just can't explain it.

Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on January 15, 2017:

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Thank you for presenting this eye opening article. It gives food for pondering. I agree there is a moral dilemma for responsibility and liability will be a new art form with law suits. I ponder why has nothing been mentioned how to monitor braking. Are we to keep a foot near or above the brake pedal? I remember issues with cruise control and sudden acceleration. Maybe there will be push button controls on the steering wheel to override systems? I dun'no . . .

ptosis (author) from Arizona on July 01, 2016:

The driver you mean, cause my bank owns my car

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on July 01, 2016:

I see what you are saying. I am not a fan of self driving cars. I have no problem with the added assist in braking and blind spot alert... And even auto pilot on highways.

As far as liability, it would have to be the owner of the car regardless. The maker of the car can be liable if the car did not live up to the promise. I doubt most car companies will issue a blanket coverage. I guess that is why they are doing these tests... To see the viability in a real live environment. If I have to guess, I think they will fail.

Banned cause of PISSANTS Promisem and Dean Traylor on July 01, 2016:

I never said a car could buy insurance.

I said if the car "is truly autonomous it should have it's own insurance policy." Not the same thing as a car buying insurance, but when I said "should" that implies that if necessary a law should be passed making it possible for the autonomous car to have insurance. Who pays for the insurance? It could be included in the price of the car. You buy the car, you have paid the insurance for the car, but you are not liable for anything, the insurance company is.

Or you can look at it this way, if the car cannot buy the insurance it needs, is it truly autonomous? I don't think so. :)

ptosis (author) from Arizona on July 01, 2016:

a corporation is a legal person and can even assert religion as in the Hobby Lobby refusing birth control for it's employees under Obamacare.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on July 01, 2016:

Don't taz me bro, a car cannot be sued and cannot buy insurance. It would have to be a person or a company.

ptosis (author) from Arizona on July 01, 2016:

Telsa is trying to weasel it's way out of liability bu stating that "AUTOPILOT IN BETA MODE" & When drivers activate Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot 'is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,' and that 'you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle' while using it."

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on July 01, 2016:

I guess we will soon find out. The first casulty happen yesterday with a Tesla self driven car.

Banned cause of PISSANTS Promisem and Dean Traylor on July 01, 2016:

If the car is truly autonomous, that is "acting independently or having the freedom to do so." it should have it's own insurance policy, just as if it was a person who is required to have their own automobile insurance.

That solves all the questions, not google, not the driver but the car';s insurance company would be the liable party. Good luck finding an insurance company that will write that policy? If the car is as reliable as it may be made out to be, probably more safe than having a licensed driver at the wheel, why wouldn't insurance companies write that policy?

Unless of course the Geico Gecko is run over by an autonomous car while doing a commercial for that policy! (small animals and lizards not covered)

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on June 30, 2016:

I don't think self driving cars are viable. There are many unforseen situations that come up when driving. It is impossible to program those into a computer and expect it to work perfectly all the time.

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