Driverless cars – who gets the ticket?


The blurb on Bloomberg TV reads: “Ford CEO Predicts Driverless Cars Within Five Years”.

If a driverless car causes an accident, who gets the ticket?

Surely, someone has already started this conversation — but perhaps not. Our traffic laws were written to address the behavior of people, not of things. So when a driverless car exceeds the speed limit, runs a stop sign, fails to yield, or collides with another car, who will — or should — get the blame?

Some possibilities:

  • the non-driving passenger — but that isn’t generally applied today (blame the passenger) unless the passenger does something egregious to interfere with the driver
  • the auto manufacturer — filing a tort action is sensible when damages occur, but what about non-accident incidents, such as speeding, running a light?
  • the software manufacturer — do we start to issue traffic citations to the programmers, who created the bug that caused the car to misbehave? Would that carry over to non-driving software, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Reader or Google?

Driverless cars present an exciting future for personal transportation. They also expose a gap in our laws, which — once again — trail technology.

We’ve got five years to figure this out. Surely, someone has already started this conversation.

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