LEGAL LIABILITY OF SELF-DRIVING CARS
Posted on 23 June, 2023 by PRIYADARSHINI SINGH
Autonomous vehicles, commonly referred to as self-driving cars, are automobiles that can operate and navigate without human intervention. These vehicles rely on a sophisticated blend of sensors, cameras, radar systems, and AI algorithms to comprehend their surroundings, make informed decisions, and effectively control their movements.
In recent years, significant attention and resources have been directed toward the progress and innovation of self-driving cars. This field of technology has witnessed remarkable advancements, fuelled by ongoing research and development efforts.
Added to this luring introduction there lays a very important aspect that requires attention i.e., the creation of suitable legal and regulatory frameworks is essential for the development and implementation of self-driving cars. It is crucial to establish guidelines and rules that govern various aspects, such as determining responsibility in case of accidents, safeguarding the privacy and security of data, and addressing ethical concerns.
This article examines the implications of product liability law on autonomous vehicles and offers a comprehensive analysis of the areas that should be taken into consideration while implementing regulations pertaining to self-driving cars. This article delves into the intersection of autonomous vehicles and legal frameworks.
THE POINT OF THOUGHT
The adoption of autonomous cars is accompanied by a significant legal concern concerning the assignment of responsibility in the event of an accident. Unlike traditional human-driven vehicles where the driver is typically held accountable for accidents, the absence of a human driver in autonomous cars raises questions about who should be held liable.
Various entities, including government authorities, courts, and car manufacturers, are actively collaborating to find solutions to these liability issues on a global scale. However, determining liability in autonomous car accidents presents complex challenges and requires careful consideration.
An Uphill Battle for the Regulatory Framework
- Liability falls on the Car Owner
The default approach is to attribute liability to the owner of the autonomous vehicle. This aligns with current requirements in many countries where car owners must have third-party liability insurance. However, issues arise when accidents occur due to errors or malfunctions in the self-driving car's systems. Since autonomous cars operate based on software instructions, it may be unfair to hold the owner accountable if they are not at fault. The traditional legal principle of negligence, which forms the basis for liability in road accidents, may not be suitable in these cases.
- Liability falls on the Vehicle Manufacturer
Another option is to hold the manufacturer of the self-driving car responsible for accidents caused by malfunctions in the car's software or systems. If the autonomous vehicle makes a choice that a human driver would not have made, resulting in an accident, the manufacturer would bear the liability.
However, this approach presents a commercial challenge for participants in the self-driving car industry. If manufacturers are legally liable for any accidents caused by their vehicles, it may discourage companies from entering the market due to the potentially significant risks involved.
Top of Form
When it comes to accidents involving autonomous vehicles, the question of fault can be complex. As the owner of the car, if you are not actively driving the vehicle and an accident occurs, the responsibility may not lie solely with you. Instead, it could be attributed to technical issues or product liability.
Product liability encompasses various legal concepts such as negligence, strict liability, manufacturing defects, design defects, and failure to warn. In the context of autonomous cars, these factors would likely shift the responsibility towards the car manufacturer or its subsidiaries. The cause of the accident could be rooted in computer-based errors, manufacturing flaws, or even negligence on the part of the manufacturer.
2.1 Strict liabilityrefers to the legal concept where a manufacturer can be held accountable for damages caused by a product, even if they exercised all possible care in its production. It removes the consideration of manufacturer negligence and instead focuses on the expectation that products should not pose unreasonable dangers to consumers. Strict liability has traditionally been applied to cases involving manufacturing defects, design defects, and failure to provide adequate warnings.
2.2 On the other hand, negligencepertains to the responsibility of product manufacturers to exercise a reasonable level of care in designing their products to ensure safety in foreseeable usage scenarios.
In summary, determining fault in accidents involving autonomous vehicles requires consideration of technical aspects, product liability principles, and potential issues related to computer systems, manufacturing processes, design, and warnings.
- Criminal Liability
Criminal liability is a significant aspect of legal responsibility, particularly concerning accidents involving autonomous vehicles (AVs). It encompasses determining who is criminally liable in such cases, including issues related to cybercrime and hacking. The use of AVs introduces various scenarios where criminal liability can arise, and identifying the responsible party can be complex.
The nature of the crime and the circumstances surrounding the accident can influence the entity held liable. Determining responsibility may involve assessing factors such as the actions of the AV, the behaviours of the human operator (if present), and the extent of control and decision-making delegated to the AV system.
Additionally, the question of whether an AV can intentionally commit a crime raises important legal considerations. Consequently, there is a need to establish new legal rules that address the various aspects of criminal liability associated with AVs, including deliberate actions and unintentional consequences.
- Ethical Vs. Engineering Dilemma
Engineering problems typically involve technical challenges that can be addressed through scientific principles, knowledge, and problem-solving techniques. These problems can be analysed and resolved using established engineering methodologies, aiming to achieve optimal outcomes based on objective criteria.
On the other hand, ethical dilemmas present complex moral situations where multiple conflicting values, principles, and perspectives come into play. They often lack a universally agreed-upon "right" solution due to the inherent subjectivity and diversity of ethical beliefs. Ethical dilemmas explore the complexities of human behavior, societal norms, and personal values, and they do not lend themselves easily to a single correct answer.
- Data Protection Issue
Manufacturers may require access to data for defence purposes or other reasons, potentially conflicting with the data privacy rights of the vehicle owner/operator.
One area of concern is the collection and usage of GPS and navigation data, which typically qualify as personal data. These types of data are crucial for the advancement and improvement of autonomous vehicles, enabling rapid progress in their capabilities. However, privacy laws may restrict the accessibility and use of such data to protect individuals' privacy rights.
Balancing the need for data in product liability cases and the privacy of vehicle owners/operators is a complex challenge. It requires careful consideration of legal frameworks, consent mechanisms, data anonymization techniques, and the development of transparent and privacy-centric data handling practices.
- Hack Attacks
Instances of accidents caused by cybersecurity attacks have been documented, such as hackers remotely unlocking BMW autonomous vehicles, resulting in a recall of 2.2 million cars. Similar attacks on Volkswagen cars led to the recall of approximately 100 million vehicles. Tesla has also faced cyber-attacks that necessitated software updates to its car operating system. In the event of an accident caused by a cyber-attack, determining liability becomes crucial.
Assigning liability in such situations can be complex. Cybersecurity threats have significant implications for product reliability, which, in turn, affects insurance policies and regulations. The impact of cybersecurity on product reliability, insurance policies, and regulations underscores the importance of robust cybersecurity measures in the development and operation of autonomous vehicles. Collaborative efforts among manufacturers, cybersecurity experts, government agencies, and insurers are essential to mitigate risks and establish comprehensive frameworks that address liability in the face of cyber-attacks.
Despite the allure of autonomous driving technology, questions regarding liability and safety remain unresolved. Accidents involving autonomous vehicles can result from a combination of human errors, technical glitches, and vehicle malfunctions, potentially leading to injuries or even fatalities. As a result, the legal framework governing autonomous vehicles is still in the process of being developed.
If you find yourself involved in an accident with an autonomous or self-driving vehicle, the intricacies of determining liability may be uncertain due to the evolving nature of the law in this area. The complex interplay between human factors, technical aspects, and vehicle performance adds to the challenge of establishing clear guidelines and standards for accountability.
It is also relevant to note that the need to resolve liability issues should not be hampering the prospects of autonomous technology being launched in the market. This statement can be made with assurance because it is a general observation that the product liability law has demonstrated remarkable adaptability when it comes to incorporating and addressing emerging technologies. Accidents will continue to be a part of motor vehicle travel; it is crucial to recognize the significance of the liability concerns raised by autonomous vehicles and give them due attention.
As autonomous vehicle technology advances and becomes more widespread, legal systems will likely continue to adapt to address the unique challenges and considerations posed by self-driving cars.
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