Autonomous vehicles: who is liable in the event of a crash?
The use of computer controlled autonomous vehicles seems likely to change many aspects of the American landscape. Most important, these vehicles seem to provide the best opportunity to reduce the tragic death toll from our nation’s highway. With more than 30,000 deaths every year attributed to motor vehicle crashes, and hundreds of thousands of injuries, the cost savings could be staggering.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the full cost of these accidents in the U.S. is $99 billion every year. If autonomous vehicles could reduce that number by a significant amount, the benefits would far outweigh the initial problems caused by developing and implementing such systems.
But as with every “solution,” there will be new and unforeseen problems. Because the systems in the vehicles will be controlled by computers and those computers will need to be in constant communication with other vehicles and traffic control systems, there will be new risks.
Hacking of software could pose a great risk, should someone take control of all vehicles or even just a few large trucks on a busy highway and cause chaos. There is also the potential for bugs to be found within the software itself, which may not be obvious during development, but when deployed in thousands of vehicles, could become dangerous.
Other issues, such as surveillance of drivers by manufacturers, law enforcement or insurance companies is likely to cause potential problems.
And if the operation of the vehicle is essentially controlled by the manufacturer and their computers systems, the relation of motorist to insurer may change, as the occupant of the vehicle may no longer have any control, and therefore, liability for the operation of the vehicle.
While industries from transportation to the insurance business could see significant changes, the greatest change would be if hospital emergency rooms had less business.
Source: reuters.com, “Autonomous cars shift insurance liability toward manufacturers,” September 8, 2015