When Nevada made driverless cars legal in the state last year, we armchair futurists sat up a little straighter. All of a sudden a number of meandering philosophical questions about how our society would have to change to embrace such technology seemed quite a bit more urgent. This question seemed especially pressing: Driverless cars are safer than those piloted by humans, but how would we feel about deaths caused by machines rather than people?
In our post on the topic we considered the ethics of the situation, but we think this recent short piece from Popular Science nails the liability angle on the issue: the real question, as far as car manufacturers are concerned, is not whether the cars are fundamentally safer, but who will should take legal responsibility for the accidents:
When a company sells a car that truly drives itself, the responsibility will fall on its maker. “It’s accepted in our world that there will be a shift,” says Bryant Walker Smith, a legal fellow at Stanford University’s law school and engineering school who studies autonomous-vehicle law. “If there’s not a driver, there can’t be driver negligence. The result is a greater share of liability moving to manufacturers.”