Who’s liable when a self-driving car damages property or injures someone?

Google Self-Driving Car
Washington state legislators got an earful about self-driving car issues on Wednesday. The legislature’s technology and transportation committee members are gathering information and insight prior to developing state regulations to have in place when autonomous vehicles start traveling state streets and highways, according to GeekWire.

The committee members are studying regulations already in place in California and Michigan, the two leaders “in developing state regulations for testing approved automated vehicles, including licensing issues,” Brian Ursino said. Ursino is the director for law enforcement of the American Association of Vehicle Administrators. “We’re behind (other states). But that’s not such a bad thing,” according to Ursino, who is based in Seattle.

Questions and issues discussed during the briefing included how insurance liability would be regulated, how the state would test or certify a self-driving vehicle for driving on state roads, responsibilities of passengers in self-driving cars, driver’s license questions, vehicle software upgrades, and more.

The group was addressed by Max Sevareid, a regional manager for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Sevareid mentioned vehicle manufacturers installing “black boxes” to monitor vehicle performance and to transmit data back to the automakers. Questions of liability for black box updates, vehicle performance liability, and passenger privacy were noted. Sevareid said, “We will be monitoring (manufacturers) to see if there are issues to set up a recall.”

Legislators also inquired about social and economic issues such loss of  transportation jobs that would arise when self-driving cars are common.

When the NHTSA, which is under the U.S. Department of Transportation, released the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy in September, its purpose was to set “the framework for the next 50 years with guidance for the safe and rapid deployment of advanced automated vehicle safety technologies.” Those guidelines included a section on model state policies with guidelines for which issues would be federal concerns, such as safety features, and which were more the province of states, such as vehicle and driver licensing.

The NHTSA guidelines were just that, guidelines without the power of law. In the absence of federal standards, regulations for testing and driving self-driving cars are still up to the states.


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