If a driverless car causes an accident who is responsible?

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Posted on May 12, 2014

With the growth of technology, self-driving cars are becoming a 'thing'. Think about it, you could do so many things that did not include keeping your eyes on the road! How does taking a road trip in your car without actually having to drive sound? A lot of people like the idea.  In fact, The Washington Post reported that half of Americans would use a driver-less car if they could. And the other half had questions about the use of a driver-less car -- as they should.

The Washington Post likened the driver-less car to an armed military drones, and what if an armed drone accidentally shoots a civilian? Who would be responsible for this? Would it be the person who created the drone, the person who programmed the software of the drone, its commander or someone else? 

So with a driver-less car, who would be to blame if it were to get in an accident? When two humans get into an accident, it can be difficult to determine who is responsible without witnesses. John Villasensor reported to The Washington Post, that while it would be a difficult question,but our legal system is equipped to deal with this.

Their certainly is a technology challenge for the manufacturers of automated cars. How are they going to decide how to teach autonomous vehicles to make 'good decisions'? Will the driver-less car have the obligation to protect the occupants in the vehicle while still keeping non-passengers from harm? With these autonomous cars, it seems like they would have to come with all sorts of warnings. But as manufacturers introduce new forms of automation, they will no doubt include copious warnings about the attendant risks - or at least we would hope. Maybe the manufacturers will have the driver-less cars suggest when the human should take over if coming up on roads or situations that may seem dangerous.

Putting your life and the life of others in the hands of a fully automated machine out on the road sounds like a big gamble. With the creation of autonomous cars comes a legal and policy gray area. Here is the bigger picture: many people are injured or killed from human mistakes behind the wheel, if self driving cars cause a handful of crashes put prevents thousands, would it be worth it?

Could self driving cars actually make our highways and roads safer someday?

What did you think about that story? For more on this story, head over to www.washingtonpost.com.

Frank R. Kearney, Attorney-at-Law
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