Self driving cars represent a lot of possibilities but they also represent a lot of liability too. One of the main discussions around the mass production of self driving vehicles has to do with who pays when there is an accident. Unlike a traditional car accident in which the drivers and their insurance companies are held responsible, the most likely culprit is not the owner of the self driving car but the car maker. The prospect of getting hit with a lawsuit every time a car is in an accident is something car makers have been trying to come up with creative solutions to before mass producing self driving cars.
The Los Angeles Times reports on the limited liability proposal introduced by General Motors, "Critics say regulations drafted by the California Department of Motor Vehicles could open a loophole for automakers to skirt responsibility for accidents, injuries and deaths caused by defective self-driving cars." The core of the suggestion by General Motors had to do with limiting car maker responsibility when the car owner failed to keep the car up to manufacturer suggestions. For instance, if the oil was too low or the tires were deflated.
When the manufacturer versus the owner of a driverless car would be responsible for an accident has been a major debate as this industry continues to grow. An NHTSA survey found that 94% of car accidents are caused by human error and this reality is certainly one of the big plugs around self-driving cars-- that they will seriously cut down on accidents by taking away human errors like running traffic lights and distracted driving. The good news is that computers are theoretically paying attention all the time on their programmed task of driving but that does not mean there won't be accidents, especially when one is a driverless car and the other is still a driver.
Who is liable for injuries is at the center of what we do every day and this shifting liability on the California roadways is certainly one that we are following closely.