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Are self-driving cars legal?

There are already many features in our cars that help us to drive more consistently. Cruise control, anti-lock brakes, parking assistance, lane departure warning systems, and auto-diming lights are all designed to help eliminate human error from driving. Many of these features are designed with safety in mind and are controlled by complex computers in the car.

For example, some luxury cars now come equipped with a blind spot detection feature, which lights up on the mirror and flashes when a car enters your blind spot. This feature is designed to help prevent car accidents by allowing drivers to monitor a wider area of the road than they would otherwise be able to. Proponents of self driving cars make the same argument for the value of a car that steers itself. Drivers may be better able to monitor the road and their surroundings if they have their hands free and don’t need to focus on merging.

What about the legal consequences of a self-driving car? If the car crashes, who is responsible for the damage, the driver or the company that programmed it? As with other new technologies, the law is still developing for self-driving cars. Most states do not have laws that address this issue specifically, leading legal experts to argue that if it isn’t banned, it must be legal.

However, many people still have concerns about how reliable the technology and safe the technology is. As we saw with the Toyota recall for spontaneous acceleration, technology works well up until it doesn’t, at which point someone may have already been injured. Lawmakers in several states are preparing to tackle this issue and outline the boundaries of liability when it comes to self-driving cars. So far no new laws have been passed to address the issue.

Source: Wired, “Navigating the legality of autonomous vehicles,” Tom Vanderbilt, Feb. 7, 2012.

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