Tyler Larkworthy is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania studying computer science and economics.
Driverless cars represent a technological innovation that is as fraught with potential legal and ethical issues as it is futuristic. Manufacturers and engineers working on driverless cars must meet numerous regulations to bring their products to market. But a pressing legal question remains: When a driverless car crashes, who is to blame?
A coherent regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles is lacking in the U.S. Only nine states and Washington, D.C. address driverless cars in any way in their laws, with most banning fully driverless vehicles. Only Florida allows truly driverless vehicles, that is, vehicles which move without an operator in the driver’s seat.  Florida law specifies, however, that a remote operator must still be able to take control of the vehicle in the event of an emergency. Forty-one states do not address autonomous vehicles in their legal codes, leaving the broad issue of the cars’ legality pending. 
Most scholars agree that legal blame will likely shift from car drivers to car manufacturers and software developers, as producers can increasingly be faulted for defective maneuvers which cause accidents. Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina supports this view, arguing that, in future lawsuits, injured plaintiffs will have to prove that a human driver or a better automated system would have performed better to avoid an accident.  In fact, driverless cars may face an even higher standard in court, because an argument can be made that automated systems should perform better than humans and avert crashes in almost all possible cases. 
 Michael Reynolds and Jason Orr. "A State-By-State Guide to Driverless Car Regulations." Law 360. July 20, 2016. Accessed March 23, 2017. https://www.law360.com/articles/819698/a-state-by-state-guide-to-driverless-car-regulations
 Matt McFarland. "Who's Responsible when an Autonomous Car Crashes?" CNN. July 7, 2016. Accessed March 23, 2017. http://money.cnn.com/2016/07/07/technology/tesla-liability-risk/
 Joseph Savirimuthu. "Google Car Crash: Who's to Blame when a Car has an Accident?" The Conversation. March 3, 2016. Accessed March 23, 2017. http://theconversation.com/google-car-crash-whos-to-blame-when-a-driverless-car-has-an-accident-55664
 Ashley Halsey III. "When Driverless Cars Crash, Who Gets the Blame and Pays the Damages?" The Washington Post. February 25, 2017. Accessed March 23, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/when-driverless-cars-crash-who-gets-the-blame-and-pays-the-damages/2017/02/25/3909d946-f97a-11e6-9845-576c69081518_story.html?utm_term=.fc3ee24e9e0c
Photo Credit: Flickr User smoothgroover22
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