Duffy and Hopkins, ‘Sit, Stay, Drive: The Future of Autonomous Car Liability’

Driverless cars have made the jump from fantasy to the physical realm. Technology has evolved to the point where autonomous cars will be a common sight in the very near future. The benefits of autonomous cars are plentiful: increased safety for car passengers, who no longer have to fear drunk, reckless, or distracted drivers, increased productivity for passengers who can use the travel time to accomplish tasks, decreased reliance on fuel as the cars often incorporate solar panels and automatically adjust speed to maximize fuel efficiency, and decreased traffic congestion as the cars can identify upcoming trouble spots and take alternate routes to avoid delay. However, this innovative technology brings with it an unaddressed legal issue: how will legal liability be assessed when these cars collide with other cars, pedestrians, or property? Current law surrounding liability for automobile accidents largely bases liability on the actions of the driver. Similarly, looking to the liability law governing computers does not address the issue either, as the laws base liability on the actions of the operator of the computer system, and the scant laws related to autonomous computer systems apply only to commercial transactions. This article proposes that the solution to this legal issue lies in treating autonomous cars like man’s best friend, the dog. Dogs and computers are both treated as chattel under tort law, and are similar in that they can act independently, yet are considered property of another. The laws governing canine ownership show that applying strict liability to autonomous car owners accomplishes the dual purpose of fairly assessing liability without hampering the widespread adoption of this marvelous technology.

Duffy, Sophia and Hopkins, Jamie Patrick, Sit, Stay, Drive: The Future of Autonomous Car Liability (2013). 16 SMU Science & Technology Law Review 101 (Winter 2013).

First posted 2014-01-18 12:37:22

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