As new transportation methods — from autonomous vehicles to shared e-scooters to smart roadways — move us fragile humans from point A to point B, it’s not the technology that could prove to be the biggest challenge. No, it could be something as unsexy as insurance.
Liability is emerging as the sleeper issue for new mobility technology across various transportation modes.
It’ll be a huge issue for autonomous vehicles (AVs). At the 3 Revolutions conference at UNC Davis on Monday, Gordon Anderson, legal fellow at the UC Davis Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy, put it plainly: “Until we get liability figured out, [autonomous vehicle] tech won’t have the chance to really bloom.” Santa Clara University of Law Professor Dorothy Glancy likewise described AV and liability concerns as “a maze” led by work being done at the state level.
Here are a couple of scenarios that could guide the evolution of AVs and liability. Down the road when a computer completely controls a vehicle (at Level 5 full autonomy), it’s reasonable to assume that the maker of the software that manages the vehicle could be held liable in the event of an accident, Anderson said. On the flip side, when the human is fully in control of the vehicle (at Level 1 or Level 0 autonomy), it’s more likely that the human driver could be found at fault.
But at Level 3 autonomy — where a computer and a human split control of the system — it will get incredibly tricky figuring out who is at fault, Anderson pointed out. If there is a handoff in control from computer to human, did the computer adequately alert the human? Did the human neglect the handoff?