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Driverless Cars and the Law: Assigning Liability

As driverless cars become an actual, affordable possibility, questions are being raised on the pros and cons of a sizable percentage of cars driving autonomously on the nation’s roads. Liability for accidents involving driverless cars is one of the top concerns.

Google’s self-driving cars have been involved in several accidents during the testing phases in California. The autonomous technology was not found to be at fault but raised questions on who will be liable if a driverless car crashes.

Volvo is one of the first companies to accept liability for accidents involving its driverless cars. Google has made similar claims that they will back their driverless technology.

Questions over liability for a driverless car crash is one of the top obstacles to driverless cars reaching the market soon. Volvo has assured the US government and insurance companies that they will take responsibility for driverless car errors. They’ve been proactive in working with federal regulators in an attempt to reduce government uncertainty in the technology and expedite guidelines in the US. Their close work with US regulators comes from their belief that America could be one of their biggest markets for driverless cars.

In a Volvo press release, Hakan Samuelsson the president of Volvo Cars voices his concerns: “The US risks losing its leading position due to the lack of Federal guidelines for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles,” he said. “Europe has suffered to some extent by having a patchwork of rules and regulations. It would be a shame if the US took a similar path to Europe in this crucial area.”

In an attempt to reduce accidents, Volvo plans on introducing a training program for its first driverless car customers offering special training on using their new driverless cars. The company plans on working with a diverse age range of drivers, especially older customers that are normally suspicious of new technology.

Tesla Motors, who plans on adding a self-drive mode to its electric cars by summer, will be the industry guinea pig for liability issues.

Autonomous self-driving car accident law firms are watching the developments carefully. In accidents with self-driving autonomous vehicles, there are process and legal issues yet to be resolved, especially when determining liability at a crash site. How will an officer investigating a traffic collision be able to question an autonomous vehicle? Will the vehicle provide a printed report and a video of the accident?

With technology progressing faster than the law, there is the potential for driverless vehicles to be in operation (and potentially causing accidents) before each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can fully address the risks and liabilities.

But other organizations think that the worry is unnecessary. The University of Washington’s Technology Law and Policy Clinic submitted position to the Uniform Law Commission states, “Product liability theories are highly developed, given the advance of technology in and out of cars for well over a century, and are capable of covering autonomous vehicles.”