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California Limits Crash Liability For Self-Driving Cars

California Limits Crash LiabilityAutonomous vehicles (AV) are making their way on our public roads. In order to help the industry, California took the unlikely decision to reduce their crash liability. Should you be concerned?

To be fair, you should be concerned driving anywhere these days. Just riding over to our favorite coffee shop spot to write this story on our electric bicycle (e-bike), we avoided a young driver at a roundabout in Long Beach, California who flew right through the stop sign, oblivious to traffic around her. Self-driving cars couldn’t come soon enough as far as we’re concerned, sadly so. But what happens if the state lowers the threshold for a crash responsibility of these AVs?

It’s not the end of the world, by any stretch of the imagination. You’re not going to go on a street and have a self-driving car run you over unaccountably. However, the state of California is eager to get more AV companies to use its roads for testing purposes, as well as protect its citizens. But the Californian DMV just removed a rule that lets companies avoid liability for an AV crash if the vehicle hadn’t been maintained to manufacturer specs, according to Engadget. And, by the way, this was suggested by GM.

This further muddies the self-driving paradigm as it has to first share the road with manual and semi-automatic driving cars. In other words, what happens when it rains and mud gets on the sensors? If a crash happens, is it the self-driving car’s fault? Is the manufacturer at fault for not having imagined that case scenario? Would the manual driver be at fault or even the other AV with a better working system? What if the driver deliberately goes through a muddy road and the sensors are covered with dirt? And how about, what will happen when going skiing when snow, sludge, and ice forms on the sensors? Who would be held accountable if the car’s sensors were rendered unuseful and involved a car crash? And lastly, what would happen if there was an engineering oversight?

Self-Driving Cars, Who Is In Charge?

As you can see, self-driving car liability isn’t easy to estimate, especially when sharing the road with regular cars. Although the comment period ends on December 15th, the full regulations will only take effect in 2018. At that point, we will have a better understanding of where the law lies and who could be held responsible.

California Limits Crash Liability

California is seriously mulling over the technicalities of self-driving cars on the road, as well as the responsibilities carmakers have to not only test the AVs but also making sure the intial self-driving and regular cars can cooperate in a healthy way.

We haven’t heard the end of this. California has always been on the leading edge of automotive technology, mixing self-driving cars and regular cars means a serious careful approach and many trials before we get it right.


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Written By

Nicolas was born and raised around classic cars of the 1920s, but it wasn't until he drove an AC Propulsion eBox and a Tesla Roadster that the light went on. Ever since he has produced green mobility content on various CleanTech outlets since 2007 and found his home on CleanTechnica. He grew up in an international environment and his communication passion led to cover electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, renewable energy, test drives, podcasts, shoot pictures, and film for various international outlets in print and online. Nicolas offers an in-depth look at the e-mobility world through interviews and the many contacts he has forged in those industries. His favorite taglines are: "There are more solutions than obstacles." and "Yesterday's Future Now"

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