By: Nick Gambino
When one of Google’s self-driving cars caused an accident back in February, it quickly brought up the question, “Who’s responsible for damages?”
Until that crash this question didn’t seem like a big deal as all accidents involving Google’s self-driving car were caused by human error, like humans in other cars rear-ending the Google car at a traffic light, for example.
The Google autonomous car (a Lexus SUV) detected sandbags around a drain which were blocking its path so it moved one lane over to avoid them, obviously. But a bus had already claimed that lane and instead of slowing down or moving back into the previous lane the car collided with the bus.
Now, this is not a sign that self-driving cars are less safe than the traditional human-driven car. These kind of accidents and worse occur all the time. But who’s to blame when it is the computer-driven car’s fault? The owner of the car? The car company?
Well, Volvo, last October stated that it would pay for any property damage or injuries directly caused by its IntelliSafe Autopilot system (due out 2020).
That’s a smart move by Volvo. If you’re going to create a system that removes control from the human driver and makes him merely a passenger then you need to assume full responsibility as a driver, whether human or not.
The senior technical leader for Volvo Erik Coelingh explains the logic behind the car company assuming responsibility for damages. “Whatever system fails, the car should still have the ability to bring itself to a safe stop.”
Their IntelliSafe Autopilot system is set to have numerous redundant systems from cameras and steering actuators to radars and brakes, all there to ensure the safety of the vehicle and passengers. If one fails the other should take up the slack.
By assuming the liability for auto accidents, car companies not only instill confidence in potential buyers but assume the moral position you’d expect from someone asking you to put your life in a computer’s hands.
While this may look like an unsmart business and financial decision it shows us the certainty these companies have in their cars and their ability to reduce accidents dramatically.
As Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina and a tech policy expert explained to Scientific American, “From the manufacturer’s perspective, what they may be looking at is a bigger slice of what we all hope will be a much smaller [liability] pie.”
Who do you think should be responsible for injury and property damage when a self-driving car causes an accident? Sound off in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Gambino is a regular script writer and tech beat reporter for NewsWatch. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and daughter.
Want to find out more about NewsWatch on the Discovery Channel? Check us out on Instagram!