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Is liability less of an issue with driverless vehicles?

The easy answer to the question posed above is, of course, no. But driverless or fully autonomous cars are not yet widely in use on U.S. roads. As we have noted previously, California has passed laws that allow for the testing of computer- and sensor-controlled vehicles. And as readers are surely aware by now, some of those vehicles have been involved in accidents.

The companies developing the vehicles, like Google, stress that the accidents on record happened while the cars were under the control of human beings and no one was hurt. That may provide some level of confidence that autonomous vehicles may prove to be safer, as developers claim. But the crashes also serve as a caution that accidents have to be expected to happen.

When accidents do happen and injuries occur how will liability be determined and what will holding responsible parties accountable look like? The answer, according to those with experience in such matters, is that it will be involve little more than a shift in direction in terms of insurance.

Presuming that fully autonomous vehicles do someday become normal, the expectation is that blame will shift away from the individual and accountability will be a matter of product liability. Vehicle manufacturers and all the vendors that supply the technology that make the autonomous system work are expected to be answerable.

Indeed, this is already anticipated in California. As one legal scholar notes, the law now is that if a car in self-driving mode fails to behave in a way that a reasonable consumer might expect, it is deemed to reflect a product defect. He further states that because the vehicles are required to have individual recorders covering at least 30 seconds, it should be easier to reconstruct how an accident happened.

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