Self-driving vehicles are the next big thing in the automotive world, and technological advances are getting us closer to that reality every day. While we often picture this new technology in a passenger car, our first self-driving vehicles might actually be trucks. Yet this raises an important new question; who's liable in an accident with a self-driving vehicle?
First Commercial Delivery Using Self-Driving Truck
In October 2016, Anheuser-Busch and Uber Technologies teamed up to send a tractor-trailer stocked with beer 120 miles down I-25 in Colorado. While this type of delivery normally isn't anything groundbreaking, the fact that there wasn't a driver behind the wheel made this venture the first commercial delivery using a self-driving truck and a giant step forward in self-driving technology. Although the autonomous drive only occurred on the interstate and the driver was in the sleeper cabin to supervise the truck, Uber says the test run shows self-driving trucks are possible.
A Self-Driving Car's First Accident
In February 2016, one of Google's self-driving vehicles moved into the center lane to avoid a pile of sandbags around a storm drain and collided with the side of a bus. In the accident account, the test driver reports seeing the bus but thinking it would slow down to let the vehicle in.
This is the first time a self-driving car was in a crash that wasn't caused by human error from other drivers. It wasn't a serious incident, but it raises a complicated question; when you have a computer behind the wheel instead of a human, who takes responsibility for a collision? Is it the car owner, the car manufacturer, or perhaps even the car itself?
Who's Responsible in an Accident?
Policy experts point out that this changing technology means we need to rethink our laws on liability. Perhaps the trucking industry could turn to the car industry to help answer these liability questions. In 2015, Volvo said it would pay for any damage or injuries caused by its self-driving system, set to debut in 2020.
The idea is that the car manufacturer's self-driving technology is vastly better at predicting and avoiding crashes than a human, so there's little to no risk to cover the liability. In fact, a study done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that vehicles with an automatic braking system reduce rear-end collisions by around 40 percent.
Robots as People
Another competing argument is that we need to rethink how we look at robots. Lawyer John Frank Weaver says we should consider robots as people, and therefore as insurable entities. As an example, Weaver offers a scenario where a self-driving car swerves to avoid hitting a deer, yet hits another car. He argues the car is at fault and should be responsible for damages. He also says that if we're going to have robots take over tasks that are normally assigned to people, we need to start recognizing them as people so that they take on liability.
Accepting Changing Technologies
Along with changing liability laws, there's one other large hurdle self-driving vehicles have to get over: skeptical buyers. A recent study done by AAA reports that 75 percent of U.S. drivers say they're afraid to get behind the wheel a self-driving car. Yet vice president of marketingStephen Gilligan points out