Law and Law-Making, Technology and the Law

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.


3 thoughts on “Driverless cars – who gets the ticket?

  1. Good questions! I have done a few posts on driverless cars and the latest has a link to a detailed UK report on the implications for car insurance, where similar issues arise. I suspect this is potentially a very dangerous development for the insurers. They are geared up to cover millions of drivers, but if the car is doing the driving companies will instead be competing to provide liability insurance for a few dozen car companies. This will make much of their car insurance expertise, staff and offices redundant.


    • Bryan Watson says:

      Thanks. I took a look at the UK report that you linked to, very interesting stuff. Working backwards through your posts as well. Looks like you (and Lloyd’s) have indeed started the conversation.


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