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Who's liable for a self-driving shuttle bus crash?

You've heard of self-driving cars, but how about a self-driving shuttle bus? The first autonomously driven shuttle bus -- sponsored by AAA -- recently got to test its skills in Las Vegas. The problem is, two hours after the bus went into operation, it got into a crash.

The incident, as well as other incidents involving self-driving automobiles, has fueled the debate over whether these vehicles will ever be as safe as human-driving cars. It also begs the question: Who is liable in a self-driving automobile collision?

Accident involved a semitruck

Interestingly, the self-driving shuttle bus was not at fault for the accident. The human driver operating a semitruck was the one who caused the accident. Nevertheless, if the shuttle bus had a human driver, could a human driver have taken evasive maneuvers -- or beeped the horn -- to avoid this collision?

An AAA spokesperson stated on Twitter, "Truck making delivery backed into shuttle, which was stopped...human error causes most traffic collisions and this was no different. Driver of truck was cited. No one hurt except a bruised bumper!"

It's a reasonable assertion that human error causes most traffic accidents. The question is, can a robotically-driven car function safely around human-driven cars? After all, a human-driven car may act illogically, and a robot driven car needs to have the cognitive ability to react to the unexpected in the way that a human driver can. Perhaps robot-driven cars will not be entirely safe until all cars become autonomous.

Liability and self-driven cars

Not only does this incident inspire one to question the safety of self-driven cars, but it brings up questions about liability. If a self-driven vehicle causes a crash and injuries, who is liable? Is the owner of the car liable? Is the computer programmer of the autonomous driving software liable? In the instant case, because the negligent semitruck driver was at fault, then it's likely that the driver's employer will be liable for the incident. In a different situation, a judge may have a difficult time of interpreting the law as it applies to such incidents.

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