Is Tort Law a Roadblock for Driverless Cars?
Insurance Experts' Forum, December 26, 2013
In the December 17 Wall Street Journal, a column by Holman Jenkins, “Will Tort Law Kill Driverless Cars?” makes two arguments. First, the complexity of software required for driverless cars is a lawsuit that is waiting to be won by the personal injury/class action bar. And second that the potential size of auto manufacturers’ legal losses will likely halt the rollout of driverless cars.
Driverless cars do require a combination of software, hardware, and communication devices. Deploying, integrating, and in some cases inventing these components is a work-in-progress. Equally challenging will be the human/machine interface — who/what takes or yields control under which circumstances? For example, if a car must swerve into the path of a large truck in order to avoid hitting a pedestrian, is that a human decision or machine decision — and is it decided in real time or in the factory?
These are real questions. But there are multiple constituencies that have economic incentives to create the answers: manufacturers, owner/operators of driverless cars, local and national governments, and not least the insurance industry. Even the personal injury/class action bar is better off in a world of future technology that creates continuing opportunities for legal actions.
Tort and liability issues will flash a yellow go-slow light for driverless cars for years — but will not shut down the road altogether.
This blog has been reprinted with permission from Celent.
Donald Light is a senior analyst in Celent's insurance practice, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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