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Who’s Liable for a Driverless Car Accident? Google Test Raises the Issue

Posted Oct 12, 2010 8:35 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Technology is outpacing the law in yet another area—this one involving the assumption that cars cannot drive themselves.

Google has tested seven cars that are able to operate with minimal driver intervention, raising new legal issues, the New York Times reports. The cars have navigated more than 140,000 miles of road, including San Francisco’s famous curved Lombard Street. There has been just one accident—a rear-ender in which a human was at fault.

“Under current law,” the story says, “a human must be in control of a car at all times, but what does that mean if the human is not really paying attention as the car crosses through, say, a school zone, figuring that the robot is driving more safely than he would? And in the event of an accident, who would be liable—the person behind the wheel or the maker of the software?”

The story quotes Bernard Lu, senior staff counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles. He notes that humans are presumed to be operating vehicles under current California laws. But he believes the Google cars are legal since humans can override any errors.

“The technology is ahead of the law in many areas,” he noted.

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