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Liability of self driving cars

Self Driving Cars? If you have an accident with a self driving car, who is at fault? The car manufacturer, the owner of the car or the occupant "driver" of the car? I have enjoyed owning and driving some of the most interesting cars made and have always enjoyed the freedom of driving without impediments or restrictions. Nevertheless, if self driving cars can help reduce accidents and enhance society, I am for them. Besides the technical aspects, there are many other issues that must be worked out. My concerns regarding self driving cars including liability, safety, morality and effectiveness of the technology.

  The idea of self driving cars has been around since the dawn of the automotive age, with many articles on this topic, starting in the 1930's. By the 1939-1940 New York Worlds Fair, self driving cars were said to be the wave of the future and by the early 1950's, it was predicted that self driving cars would be the norm by the mid 1970's. The early self driving car concept depended on one of two systems. One system included tire tracks built into the road so that cars could follow and be directed by these tracks, similar in concept to train rails. Another system, that was pushed throughout the 1950's, included a tracking electric cable, buried in each car lane, that the cars were able to follow. In both systems, the cars were able to communicate with one another so that the moves and destinations of each car was known and momentary moves were predictable to the other cars on the road.

1956 Firebird was to be self driving

Mid 1950's experimental GM self driving car. No steering wheel!

1960's designed self driving car using wheel tracks

  I have a number of concerns with the present incarnation of the self driving cars, that are being explored by the car companies and certain computer companies such as Google and Amazon. My feeling is that a combination of self driving cars and conventional driver controlled cars are not compatible with one another. Self driving cars can only be truly safe if it is on the road with other self driving cars, so that each turn and move is relayed in advance to the other cars so that each car can appropriately take proper evasive or steering action. Each car must be in sync with the other cars on the road. Other wise, it person driven car may make an unanticipated move that the self driven car may not predict in advance. Under the mixed conditions of a self driven car and a person controlled car, there might be a slight safety advantage for the self driven car, in terms of reaction time for such measures as evasive steering or braking, however the self driven car still could not be accident free, unless all cars effectively communicated with one another.

  Other concerns that I have is who would be considered at fault in the event of an accident between two self driven cars? What if an injury or death occurred? Suppose that a group of people, not paying attention, suddenly ran into the street. Would the on-board computer make a decision that it was better to crash the self driven car and thus potentially save the lives of the pedestrians and risk the car occupant life or would the computer allow the car to hit the group of pedestrians who ran into the street?

  There are many other similar complex moral and legal questions that must be addressed regarding the use of self driving cars. I have enjoyed owning and driving some of the most interesting cars made and enjoy the freedom of driving without restrictions. Nevertheless, if self driving cars can help reduce accidents and enhance society, I am for them. Besides the technical aspects, there are many other issues that must also be worked out. ---Frank X. Didik 2015

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This page is from November 12, 2015, though is based on thoughts by Frank Didik dating back many years.