Who is at Fault When a Driverless Car Gets in an Accident?

Autonomous vehicles are the talk of the town, especially since Google hosted its first-ever media event showcasing its “self-driving car” earlier this week. But while Google is demonstrating that the technology for autonomous cars exists, the question of liability remains.

Last year, several news outlets including the San Diego-Union Tribune and Wall Street Journal asked whether liability issues could stymy consumer access to autonomous cars.

In his latest paper for the Brookings Institution Center for Technology Innovation published in April 2014, Public Policy professor John Villasenor says this shouldn’t be the case. He argues that existing product liability law is well equipped to adapt to new technology and handle most of the issues that could arise.

Villasenor explains his findings in The Atlantic saying:

“Thanks largely to the tremendous technological change that has occurred since the middle of the last century, products liability has been a dynamic, rapidly evolving area of law. Notably, when confronted with new, often complex, questions involving products liability, courts have generally gotten things right…

…while the specific fact patterns will vary, in products liability terms, manufacturers of autonomous vehicle technologies aren’t really so different from manufacturers in other areas. They have the same basic obligations to offer products that are safe and that work as described during the marketing and sales process, and they have the same set of legal exposures if they fail to do so.”

The Washington Post noted Villasenor’s paper in their own analysis, which concludes that autonomous cars can be a boon to safety rather than a minefield of liability risks.

The New York Times also quoted Villasenor in their article about driverless cars and various issues like law-breaking and liability.

Villasenor concludes his paper by offering guiding principles for legislation that should and should not be enacted. To read his full paper, go here.


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