Who is liable when a driverless car wrecks?

The Nevada Legislature in 2011 approved the testing of driverless cars. Google has equipped eight test cars that sport special license plates, ones with a red background and an infinity symbol on the left side, according to a Las Vegas Sun story.

Gov. Brian Sandoval “test drives” a driverless car. (AP photo)

But the Arizona Legislature is now grappling with the burning question that makes the hearts of lawyers everywhere go pitter patter: Who is liable if a driverless car is to blame for a wreck?

A Wall Street Journal article addresses this by asking: “Is it the company that designed the technology? The car’s owner, or a passenger who should have assumed control? The auto maker who built the car?”

The WSJ article says Nevada bureaucrats at the Department of Motor Vehicles have come up with 22 pages of rules for the robotic test cars, including that the tester must post a liability bond of $1 million.

I think this is an area Isaac Asimov may have overlooked when he came up with his Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Perhaps we need a codicil that addresses whether a robot has a right against self-incrimination.

13 comments on “Who is liable when a driverless car wrecks?

  1. nyp10025 says:

    One of my favorite books series when I was young.

    BTW, I really haven’t followed the driverless car stuff, but there are some people who think it is the sort of invention that unexpectedly changes society in profound ways. I’m not sure how, but that’s what they say.

  2. Steve says:

    In Foundation and Earth and Prelude to Foundation. ( I have the whole series) Asimov added a fourth law. In keeping with the way computers count numbers it was the Zeroth Law.

    A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

    In effect it allows a robot to lie, in the name of the greater good of humanity. It could also be used as a tool to prevent self incrimination if the greater good is calculated as paramount.

    But true AI has not yet been reached, maybe close though, with super-computing by some opinions. I simply think these computers are just so fast a calculating they appear to have reached AI. Kasparov refused to play chess against one unless it was hobbled because it could calculate every possible move from any point in the game. Two of these machines playing each other un hobbled would reach stalemate each and every game. No AI there just super fast calculating power.

    Giskard was the robot in power, the first AI in Asimovs series. So far we have none even close to these. So I expect there will be a NTSB for the streets if the future brings truly self driving cars. I also expect the accident rate would drop precipitously.

    The million dollar bond is similar to the million dollar insurance required for personal vehicles on a stipend program for company use. Surprisingly not that expensive.

  3. Anything by Asimov, Clarke or Heinlein, Petey, I devoured. 

    And it certainly has tremendous potential for change. I can foresee some lawmakers — if it saves one child — outlawing human drivers altogether.


  4. nyp10025 says:

    ah, you just had to throw that one in, didn’t you.
    Here is the guy who thinks driverless cars are an argument against public investment in high-speek rail:

    Anyway – the Folio Society has just issued a deluxe edition of Asamov’s Foundation Trilogy, with a special introduction by one of your favorite economists.

  5. brucefeher says:

    Who do you think will pay, the private sector taxpayer…aka, SUCKER

  6. nyp10025 says:

    no, it’s a way of dealing with urban congestion w/out large fixed-rail investments by the public sector. It’s a technological innovation that ought to appeal to conservatives.

  7. I have no problem with innovation so long as its embrace is voluntary.


  8. Paul Krugman? I think I’ll pass.


  9. Steve says:

    Voluntary is the answer. That’s why Via Motors is going to do well.

  10. Nibot Mus says:

    Self evident! BUSH!

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