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How will liability work in the age of driverless vehicles?


Table of Contents

Texas law doesn’t currently allow or prevent driverless cars or trucks on the road. The day is said to be coming, though, when the law will have to change. State lawmakers would actually like to do something about that right now, but a measure on the table is facing some opposition and has stalled. Observers expect the issue to resurface again in the future.

Besides the major issues related to developing all the technology required for fully autonomous self-driving vehicles, there is a major sticking point that has to be overcome. Who will bear the liability if a self-driving car or truck gets into a crash? We know it can happen. Reports of minor accidents involving autonomous test cars in California have made big news recently.

Of even greater concern in some corners is the fact that Nevada has licensed the first autonomous commercial truck. It isn’t a truly self-driving 18-wheeler. It’s a test truck that has to have a driver at the wheel to intervene if needed. But it is plying Nevada highways. Because only four states currently have laws on the books specifically allowing fully autonomous vehicles of any kind, the appearance of the truck is prompting some to call for the other states and Washington to take regulatory action sooner, not later.

One of the major unanswered questions hanging over the whole area of autonomous trucks and cars is one of liability. If such a car or truck causes a crash what will holding responsible parties accountable for damage, injury or death look like?

Some observers say the answer is likely going to take a lot of time to become clear. They say it will be years before the vehicles are generally available. And they say it could take even more years for the driving public to adopt them. But many say the law needs to be ready to address issues of concern now.

What do you think?

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