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.