Automakers accept liability for self-driving cars

A Volvo self-driving car prototype. Image courtesy of Volvo.
A Volvo self-driving car prototype. Image courtesy of Volvo.

Over the last week several large automotive companies have made public statements that they would hold themselves liable for the accidents caused by their self-driving cars.

Speaking at a seminar organized by the company, Volvo chief executive Håkan Samuelsson explained that his company would accept full liability for their vehicles when they are in autonomous mode.

“We are the suppliers of this technology and we are liable for everything the car is doing in autonomous mode,” he said during the seminar in Washington DC according to Autoblog.

“If you are not ready to make such a statement, you shouldn’t try to develop an autonomous system.”

Elaborating on this, he explained that Volvo would accept liability only for crashes caused explicitly by the self-driving technology.

Human driver error would not be considered part of this when autonomous functionality is switched off, nor would crashes caused by the human error of other drivers on the road.

In addition to Volvo, both German automaker Mercedes-Benz and tech conglomerate Google have announced similar plans.

In an interview with CBS News, both companies reportedly stated that they would accept liability if their technology is at fault, once it becomes commercially available.

All three companies are currently working on autonomous vehicles, which they expect will reach the market within the next few years.

Liability important question

The issue of liability with respect to self-driving cars has long been a potential hurdle for the development of this technology.

While information provided by Google during its testing shows that its self-driving cars are very safe, and that human error was the cause of most of their crashes, there are still scenarios whereby software faults could cause crashes.

By accepting the liability for these scenarios, these companies are effectively setting up a precedent within the industry which is likely to be followed by their competitors.

With such a precedent set, it will be much more simple for self-driving cars to be approved both by regulatory agencies as well as car insurance companies.