Posted by: maroonmaurader | October 10, 2010

Autonomous cars

Check out this article about Google (who else) running an autonomous vehicle AI project which has “driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.”

I know several human drivers who get in accidents more frequently than that.



  1. Despite the fact that it was rearended (and not vice versa), I wonder what the legal ramifications of getting in an accident with an experimental car are. I can see the other driver trying to wriggle out of obligations since no one was driving the car.

  2. Kind of Falconbait!

    Generally you can be held liable for property damages (as opposed to just personal injuries) arising from your negligence. You can also generally be held liable to the owner of a car for damage to the car, even if the owner wasn’t at the wheel. Depending on what jurisdiction you’re in, you can either mitigate liability, or affirmatively defend against it, by proving that the other car (or its owner) was “contributorily negligent” (i.e. even though you were not exercising reasonable care, the other car wasn’t either, and the accident would either have been averted or less serious had it been).

    If this conclusory and unsupported statement of what is generally true is accurate (I’m 85% sure it is), and if, in addition, it holds in the jurisdiction where the accident took place (I’m ?% sure of that) then the most promising approach to [partially] wriggling out of liability available to the other driver is to argue that either the car, or Google for sending the car out, was contributorily negligent. (There are a bunch of obvious, if dubious, theories, but here’s the cheekiest one I can think of: if there’s a statute in the jurisdiction forbidding leaving unattended vehicles in the middle of the road, it could be argued (i) that Google violated the statute, and, because the statute has a public safety purpose, (ii) such violation is “negligence per se.”)

    My sense is that as long as the driverless car was obeying the traffic laws the driver who rear-ended it would probably be held liable to Google for property damages.

  3. There was a driver at the wheel with the ability to override the AI at any time; apparently at least under Californian law this means the car counts as being “driven” by the human.

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