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Driverless cars: Who’s driving and who’s responsible?

March 7, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan Auto Law attorney Todd Berg weighs in on Lawyer 2 Lawyer podcast on the Legal Talk Network

Google driverless car

Driverless cars are well on their way. They’re being tested right now on Michigan streets and highways, and as I told a roomful of several hundred lawyers at the Florida Association for Justice Workhorse Seminar last week, be prepared for driverless cars to arrive much faster than most people think.

As an auto accident lawyer, I’ve written extensively about how a liability system will likely work in a world with autonomous vehicles. I believe there must be a balance between protecting this emerging and incredible  technology that promises to save hundreds of thousands of lives in a world that will largely be without car accidents, and still protecting and fairly compensating accident victims when a driverless car does inevitably cause an injury or death, especially in the early years of this technology.

Driverless cars — also called self-driving cars, autonomous cars, robotic cars  and Google cars – are vehicles that drive themselves. They have new advanced technology that enable them to navigate without a human driver.

Last week, our very own attorney Todd Berg was featured on Lawyer 2 Lawyer, a prominent legal podcast on Legal Talk Network. You can listen to the full podcast, where they discussed driverless cars, here:

The podcast covered liability for passengers, possible federal regulations, and risks associated with vehicle hacks. In addition, the panel (which also included author John Weaver and Anna Eby, a Texas business attorney) debated when the government might pilot a driverless car, how medical emergencies in autonomous vehicles will be handled, and the possibility of the repo man summoning a driverless automobile.

One of the first and most common questions that was asked of Todd, is who’s really liable in an accident with a driverless car?

Here’s what Todd had to say:

“Not in Michigan you’re not (going to sue the manufacturer of the car every time)… If we do drive into a driverless car world, there are certain things in the law that are going to have to change to account for situations where tragedy occurs. And one of those is the liability situation. Here in Michigan, we’ve got a very strict product liability law. And if I had a wish list in a driverless car world, the top of that wish list would be to amend and change the law…[U]nder the existing law, it’s very difficult to establish liability for a manufacturer in a situation like this. You’d have to jump the moon to do it. In March of last year, a law was passed which allowed manufactures to put driverless cars on the road to road test here in Michigan. And there was a liability provision in that bill. And I think that for lack of anything else, that probably is a predictor for what the future may hold. And that bill said liability for a manufacturer would only exist if a defect could be shown, and it could be shown that the defect was there at the time of manufacturing. That provides, as you might guess, for a broad immunity for the manufacturer. I just think that if these cars become a thing of the future, and they’re all over the roads, you have a situation where they’re creating a possibility for accidents, injuries, deaths. They have to be held accountable on some level. I understand it’s a developing technology and they need to have the room to grow and move and flexibility. But at the same time, the public needs to be protected and somebody needs to be held accountable when someone gets hurt or someone dies.”

Related information:

Why Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle is wrong on driverless cars

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