self-driving car

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?