One group of people eagerly awaiting the arrival of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are lawyers, according to a recent report on CNET. While the soon-to-arrive vehicles are sure to save countless lives (after cigarettes, motorized vehicles are the second most dangerous consumer product on the market – thanks to human operators), a host of legal opportunities will emerge with regards to product liability, tort law, negligence, foreseeable harm, patent encumbrance, and design defects.

To limit the liability of companies that will supply autonomous technology, laws will need to be enacted to curb their legal exposure. Plus, the systems will need to be locked down so their software cannot be modified or altered by the user – even if that type of action hinders technology advancements and innovation.

Yet there are even more lawsuits threatening self-driving technology. Thinking beyond modified software or errors in coding that causes mishaps are the actions, and legal implications, of humans sharing the roads with self-driving vehicles. What happens when a driver deliberately, and aggressively, interacts with an autonomous car (e.g., attempts to run it off the road or jams on the brakes in an attempt to cause a collision) and human injury is the result? Even more frightening is this question: Who goes on trial when a motorist is killed by a vehicle driven by a robot?


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  • 62 Comments
      Justin Campanale
      • 1 Year Ago
      I honestly have no problem with self driving cars, as a dedicated auto enthusiast. However, one thing which really worries me is whether this will affect sales of regular cars. I mean, all you need to do is to look at the sad story of the manual transmission. It's virtually nonexistent in non-sports cars, and even in sports cars, it is ding out, with the next GT3 as well as the current GT-R being DCT only. If a similar situation is seen in the future, but with with autonomous cars vs regular cars instead of manual vs. auto cars..... well, I don't think it will end up very well for us car enthusiasts. Besides, with all the nanny state car safety regulations being forced upon cars right now (ex. the NHTSA mandating backup cameras in ALL cars) , it makes you wonder if non-autonomous cars will eventually be banned from U.S. roads in the name of "safety". When that happens, that will mark the death of car enthusiasm.
      4RR4Y
      • 1 Year Ago
      I get behind the wheel of a vehicle to drive. If I didn't honestly desire to drive, I'd carpool or take public transportation. Period. Speaking of which, I'd rather see improved public transit/train systems in the US (still waiting on high-speed rail lines...) - That would eliminate a great deal of people who clog up road for those who honestly want/need to drive. Granted most buses drive along preset and time-regulated routes, self-driving buses would be the most beneficial form of autonomous vehicle, as opposed to one owned and operated privately.
      Brian D
      • 1 Year Ago
      We will see self driving cars in Europe and other places long before the USA because of litigation laws. GM and Toyota aren't going to sell self driving cars that they are responsible for during an accident. BTW, Insurance companies would also fight self driving cars to the bitter end. Without people behind the wheel there is no need for insurance on a vehicle. If anything it will be the automakers that will need insurance on vehicles they sell. Police and Judicial systems won't want the vehicles either because they eliminate the revenue derived from driving tickets and drunk drivers.
      Mazdafreak
      • 1 Year Ago
      This will either be a great idea or a stupid one. The good side to autonomous cars will be that it will get the people who don't care about driving off the roads, leading to a safer enviroment to drive in. The bad side.......let's see: a - Automakers will start to REALLY neglect enthusiasts like us, and there won't be any new and exciting products on the roads. b - Once someone hacks the system and causes a mass wreck/traffic problem, the lawsuits that will follow will be extremely hard for the courts to sort out. Also, if these autonomous cars don't have any sort of human intervention in the case of an emergency, we could see massive wrecks leading to dozens of fatalities. We've already got lazy, car-hating idiots suing Toyota for "lost re-sale value." We don't need to give them any more invitations.
      rbnhd1144
      • 1 Year Ago
      Driving is a pleasure, if you dont want to drive take a cab or other public transportation.
      kyle
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'm kind of glad they are looking to make the Prius autonomous. If I was to drive one of those things, I would fall asleep at the wheel out of complete boredom. And we all know the obvious dangers of falling asleep at the wheel.
      JaylanPHNX
      • 1 Year Ago
      I worry what protection we have from the government declaring, once this technology is mature, that vehicles are no longer allowed to be driven by humans.
        Brian D
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JaylanPHNX
        You won't even need a person in the vehicle. It should be feasible to send a vehicle on a one way trip without anybody in the vehicle. Plot in GPS coordinates to pick up your wife, and off it goes. For liability reasons the vehicle is going to be totally autonomous or it will never work. The vehicle can't drive "Most" of the way, and than hand off to the driver. That is a recipe for lawsuits on drivers, and manufacturers. That's why I think we are 50 years from this kind of technology.
      sundude
      • 1 Year Ago
      How will autonomous vehicles co-exist with ordinary vehicles? Will ordinary vehicles need to be outlawed altogether? It seems to me that the big promise of autonomous vehicles can only be realized with a 100% driverless fleet.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
      Milwaukee, WY
      • 1 Year Ago
      The only time in my life I think I'll be remotely interested in this technology is in 40 - 50 years from now (when I'm old). I can see this being a big advantage to the elderly, allowing them to maintain their mobility safely long after they would otherwise have to hang up their keys. That being said, I have big concerns about how autonomous cars will likely adversely affect enthusiasts. As many others have said, why reinvent the car when we can improve mass transit for those who don't want to drive? Also, how will these cars handle driving in adverse weather conditions. Here in the frosty Midwestern US, that's a big thing to consider, and I've yet to see one of Mountain View's Priuses (Prii?) driving around in Wisconsin.
        Chris
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Milwaukee, WY
        Did you see the part about cars being really dangerous? That's the why. On vehicles that clear mountain pass roads, they already have GPS systems that allow the drivers to see the roadway on a screen without being able to see bubkis out their windows. A computer can react infinitely faster than you can, which is why traction control is so prevalent. I'm a car enthusiast too, but trust me, this is going to happen, and it's going to be a good thing.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
      John
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hurdles - more like road blocks. Look no further than the stuck-acceleration claims against Toyota and Audi. Lawyers and media will be all over this and turn it into a crisis. Perhaps you could use cameras and data logging but most people are not comfortable with that. The only solution is to have someone in the driver seat monitoring car's driving at all times and thus be liable. You might as well be driving and that's not what people want in a self driving car.
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