William W. Hurst
Law Office of William W. Hurst, LLC
50 S. Meridian St., Suite 600, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Faced with rapidly increasing improvements in technology, modern lawmakers are now tasked with composing legislation to address novel issues of public policy. Self-driving vehicles, for instance, pose a safety threat unimaginable mere decades ago. Accidents caused by self-driving cars consequently pose several questions: Who is to blame and when? Who is to be compensated and by how much? The responsibility to navigate this uncharted territory lies upon legislators who must assess the outcomes of newly integrated technology.
Self-driving vehicles have the potential to change the entire auto-industry as well as shift the roles of the conventional work place and of leisure activity. As explained in an article published in the US Black Engineer and Information Technology journal, “the new technology will free people to work, read or otherwise occupy themselves as they glide down the road. Eventually, cars will become easier to share, as they ferry themselves from one appointment to the next” (Fletcher, 2015). The notion that cars will not only drive themselves while carrying passengers, but will drive themselves in the absence of passengers, creates a whole other dimension of liability issues. If a self-driving automobile were to be found responsible for an accident, perhaps its owner could be determined responsible. However, if a car’s owner is not even present at the time of the accident, does the fault lie instead with the manufacturer? As set forth in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, “automobile accident liability cases are most often decided on theories of negligence or strict liability…it is likely that the legal framework under which SDVs [self-driving vehicles] will operate will be one of negligence…the main question under this framework appears to be who has the duty of care (responsibility) and what are the consequences of breaching that duty” (Lari, A. et. al., 2015, p. 759-760). In other words, it is unclear who would be to blame if a self-driving vehicle were to crash. Discussing these potential crashes is more pertinent than ever and legislators must develop a plan to address the issue of self-driving cars before this technology becomes more commonplace.
Perhaps one way to address the specific issue of empty self-driving cars is to simply ban the practice. A regulation requiring all self-driving cars in motion to be occupied by their owner would prevent self-driving car manufacturers from being held responsible for accidents caused by their products which resulted in damage, injury, or fatality. Car manufacturers could also protect themselves from potential lawsuits by requiring purchasers of self-driving cars to waive the right to sue the car manufacturer in the event of an accident. However, a regulation or contract making the owner of a self-driving car responsible for all of its actions could drive the demand for these cars into the ground. Another way to address the prospective problems posed by self-driving cars is to implement manual tools which enable a passenger to take control of the car, if necessary. Unfortunately, this may also negate the appeal of self-driving cars as it requires that passengers be paying attention to the driving of their cars. If the case then becomes that passengers must be prepared to take over their self-driving cars at any moment in order to avoid accidents, the purpose of a self-driving car would be defeated and drivers would likely prefer to simply drive themselves.
Self-driving vehicles pose serious issues, many far more grave than ambiguous liability. Self-driving cars have the potential to glitch, be hacked, or flat out die in the middle of transportation. The regulation of these vehicles is necessary and must be completed methodically and with urgency.
Lari, A., Douma, F., & Onyiah, I. (2015). Self-Driving Vehicles and Policy Implications: Current Status of Autonomous Vehicle Development and Minnesota Policy Implications. Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, 16(2), 759-760. Retrieved from https:// scholarship.law.umn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1015&context=mjlst.
Fletcher, M. (2015). Road to the Future: GOOGLE, OTHERS PAVE WAY FOR SELF- DRIVING CARS. US Black Engineer and Information Technology, 39(1), 64-65. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43773229
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