Legal responsibility Questions Loom Over Autonomous Autos

Even the most advanced self-driving cars could get caught in accidents, and the way government regulators assign liability for those accidents could, according to some thinkers in space, have a significant impact on how consumers interact with technology and how they feel developed.

“Your state regulates you as a driver, but in [autonomous vehicles]who is the driver? Is it the robot Is it the automaker? “Devin Gladden, AAA National Manager for Federal Affairs and Technology and Public Purpose Scholar at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, said during a recent virtual event hosted by the center.

“There are still open questions in the regulatory area that need to be answered [and] This will help us determine whether or not we see greater acceptance and use of these vehicles, ”said Gladden. “The insurance industry got around this on tiptoe. The state regulators … tiptoeed around this. “

A US Senator duo recently called on the federal government to do more to develop, build and deploy autonomous vehicles

(AV), Questions of how and when some of these unresolved regulatory decisions will be made could be re-addressed.

The self-driving automotive industry is an “estimated $ 8 trillion global market opportunity,” wrote Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., And John Thune, RS.D., in a draft amendment they tabled in April. This change addresses regulatory issues and would change the assessment of the safety of such vehicles.


States are tasked with regulating auto insurance and liability insurance, and 40 of them – plus Washington, DC – had some form of law or regulation regarding AVs in place by 2020, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

Some of this legislation seems to ensure that rules are in place before the vehicles are widespread. For example, a 2020 New Jersey bill would hold owners liable for their self-driving cars, and a 2021 Wyoming bill would make the “shipping point, manufacturer, vehicle owner, or any combination thereof … if any, or a combination thereof.” assign these individuals or organizations are to blame. “

Gary Biller

, President of the National Motorists Association, a nonprofit affiliate, told Government Technology that transfer of liability is a key concern for drivers. A related problem: uncertainty about the responsibilities of drivers when using automated types of vehicles, where drivers may be asked to take back control at times. How the liability and accountability of drivers and automakers or software providers are ascribed in these situations is complicated by the latter’s financial resources, he noted.

“Automakers and systems suppliers for self-driving cars have many more resources than a single driver – so many more resources to defend themselves and protect their rights,” said Biller.


Full self-driving use of cars by the general public may still be a long way off, and many states have geared insurance legislation to ensure that manufacturers who are currently testing their technologies are covered.

State regulators should consider holding manufacturers solely responsible for AV liability during initial tests on public roads, Gladden said. His research found that liability concerns were one of the four main barriers to public acceptance of AVs. The provision of corporate funding could demonstrate corporate confidence in their technologies and build confidence among residents, he said.

“I think if the industry is willing to put all this investment money into these vehicles to bring them to life, I think it means they should be liable for at least a short while,” Gladden said.

However, states where manufacturers are required to take out insurance before testing often leave questions unanswered. Many have a specific amount of insurance, such as $ 5 million under Connecticut law. But laws generally don’t outline any other specifics and appear to leave testers plenty of leeway as to what type of insurance plans they get, said Asaf Lubin, associate professor of law at Indiana University’s Mason School of Law and a fellow at the Center for Applied Cyber ​​Security Research, recently in an interview with Government Technology.

“We don’t know anything in the world of academic insurance policies about what those policies say,” said Lubin. “There are about 80 testers in the US … the guidelines are tailored for them.”


Stakeholders have traditionally discussed the appropriate time to adopt detailed rules for emerging technologies.

Some are in favor of having clear guidelines on liability and other matters in place quickly, while others suggest holding back until the inventions are more widely used. Proponents of the latter say it allows policymakers to see how users interact with the technologies, give regulators more insight, and help them avoid what could turn out to be overly restrictive approaches, Lubin explained.

“There has been a lot of discussion between those who say, ‘We need to regulate and introduce a new liability framework now,’ and those who say, ‘Wait, let’s see how this goes [and] How the public is responding and providing opportunities for regulatory sandboxing and experimentation before a preventive framework is put in place, ”said Lubin.

Such decisions could affect both driver confidence and developer strategies. Lubin generally notes that “any kind of regulation we put in place today could scare off developers, move development outside of the US, or deny us the benefits of a robust AI industry.”

Given the risks associated with either approach, government regulators need to carefully weigh the pros and cons.


Lubin believes that policymakers should start a public discussion of the types of insurance policies used to cover vehicle tests, but may postpone much of the liability debate for now. Instead, they should seize the moment to regulate other aspects of AV usage that may be more pressing – such as privacy and cybersecurity issues. If policy makers step in now, they can turn away from worrying practices before they blend in with companies’ sales models and consumer habits, he said.

“Remember to be able to regulate social media platforms in 2005 before they fully penetrate the scene,” said Lubin. “Everything we criticize today about the surveillance capitalism created by these companies based on an ecosystem of targeted ads, etc. could have been regulated in advance to create an ecosystem that might protect the consumer.”

AVs collect data about their surroundings so that cars can navigate their surroundings and may communicate back to the smart city infrastructure to give city planners insights for better traffic management. With all this data, however, regulators need to determine how best to treat the information collected and transmitted by the system and vehicles.

“Who does the data generated by the vehicle belong to?” Said Lubin. “Is this data in the possession of the vehicle owner? Are these data the property of the manufacturer? Can you share it with third parties? Is this data encrypted? [and] anonymized? ”

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