Volvo announced recently it will take responsibility for any accidents caused by its driverless vehicles. That’s quite an offer and could be just the thing to assuage the unfounded fears surrounding robot vehicles.
The Swedish car company has an ulterior motive: speeding of federal U.S. legislation that would allow driverless cars to operate on public roads. Currently, the laws regarding autonomous vehicles are a mess–in the U.S., legislation is a patchwork that varies from state to state. “The U.S. risks losing its leading position due to the lack of federal guidelines for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles,” Samuelsson said in a press release. “The absence of one set of rules means car makers cannot conduct credible tests to develop cars that meet all the different guidelines of all 50 U.S. states.”
This promise should, it is hoped, remove some uncertainty from the driverless situation: if nobody is driving a car, who is to blame if it crashes? Of course, Volvo won’t pay if the driver makes an error or some idiot in a human-piloted car ploughs into you.
Mercedes and Google have also said the same, telling 60 Minutes that “they’ll accept responsibility and liability.”
All three companies seem confident in their products and with good reason. Driverless vehicles are overwhelmingly safer than those driven by people: They can react faster and don’t get distracted or tired, misjudge traffic conditions, talk or text on a cell phone, or suffer road rage.
The law, then, is holding things up. “Current laws never envisioned a vehicle that can drive itself,” John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair, told Co.Exist this year. “If an autonomous vehicle gets in a collision, who is responsible?”
That part of the puzzle now seems to have an answer.