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Driverless Cars Raises Questions On Responsibility

Driver-less Cars Raises Questions On Responsibility

Sci-fi technology is once again dividing lawmakers. In mid-2012, Arizona lawmakers debated a law that laid out guidelines for a rapidly approaching technology: self-driving vehicles. But the lawmakers got stuck on the crucial point of fault; who’s to blame when a driverless car crashes? Without a driver, the legal answer is tricky—the company that designed the technology (and the company that built the car) is possibly to blame. But the car’s owner or a passenger could potentially assume control and avoid a crash.

Auto-makers voiced their concerns about an Arizona bill (introduced last year by State Rep. Jeff Dial, a Republican), which pretty much kept the bill in committee. Mr. Dial explained, “Their concern is that somebody comes along and modifies their vehicles, and they could be held liable if that technology doesn’t work.” Last year in California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law on self-driving cars. Florida and Nevada have also passed legislation regarding driverless cars; Nevada’s law was the earliest (2011), and most comprehensive, with twenty-two pages of rules for testing. California’s, on the other hand, was a directive to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to come up with rules by 2015.

A completely driverless car is still years away. The Chief Executive of Nissan predicted that driverless cars would be in showrooms by around 2020, at the Detroit auto show of January 2013. Google has been testing driverless car technology for years, and says it will bring safer, faster, cleaner roadways. Troy Dilliard, director the DMV, said special licenses for individual owners of driverless vehicles are coming, adding, “This has never been done anywhere in the world. Autonomous vehicles 1.0 is what we’ve come up with.”

But the Feds haven’t given the new technology much attention yet. In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it planned to conduct research on automated driving, but hasn’t issued any rules yet. The driverless car combines potentially lethal things: unknown technology, highways, and driver error. It’s hoped that emerging legislation will stress technology testing, and caution.

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