Cars that drive themselves: who’s at fault if it crashes? 2



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A year or two ago, the introduction of cars that would drive themselves seemed still aeons away, but today no more, with the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk saying his next Tesla will take steering to a whole new level and do it for you.  But it has opened a can of worms in our office.

Imagine this… you take your car in for a service, the mechanic updates the computer and then all of a sudden it can drive all by itself.  Well, this is what will happen to Tesla owners who take their $100k USD car in for a service this American summer, when it will receive a software update and suddenly become able to drive itself, at least some of the time in hands-free autopilot mode.  Suddenly your car won’t need you to drive it anymore.  But is that what most people really want?

It is artificial intelligence meets cars, and it doesn’t just mean that these cars will be able to drive on highways.  It also means that you will, if you own a Tesla, be able to summon it by smartphone and have it park itself in your garage.

It seems this is just the beginning for automatic cars, and the billionaire Musk is no doubt going to be the first one to traverse the legal issues that come with this new form of driving.  Whose fault will it be if a car operating with artificial intelligence crashes or causes a death?

It seems no one is willing to admit to the issue yet.  “We’re not getting rid of the pilot. This is about releasing the driver from tedious tasks so they can focus and provide better input,” said a Tesla spokesperson in the New York Times.

There is already cars on the road with some forms of self-driving capability. Cars like Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and Honda can apparently already drive themselves on the highway. However, until now, automakers have taken steps to prevent actual autonomous driving in such cars, requiring consumers keep their hands on the wheel. A few seconds without touching the wheel, for example, and a warning is sounded; the cars then come to a stop.

But this is different.  In the new Tesla it’s more like an autopilot system.

So tell us today… do you think cars that drive themselves are an inevitable part of our road system and who do you think should be at fault if a car on autopilot crashes?  Do you think this will be an issue? 

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. My 2013 Mazda6 station wagon – as with the generally Euro cars with the necessary electronics that preceded it – was equipped with many of the functions that will eventually tie together to realise self-driving (or autonomous driving). On cruise control it had the ability to reduce speed to that of the car ahead, or to brake if an accident appeared likely, would warn if another car was within close proximity in the rearward blindspots, and would alert you if the car drifted onto the lane line or shoulder line.
    These electronic aids and others have been around for a number of years. Tesla have taken these and others further than most and want to test the boundaries. Personally, I am against automation of driving because I believe it has always been something in which, to do it well, we can take great pride. It is another function that will be taken away from us in time but, I trust, will prove to make roads safer. My main concern is to with its reliance on electronics. We have inbuilt redundancy in aviation; will it exist in the automotive sphere as well?

  2. Now, with ABS, some people drive faster, because the car will brake better. With EBA, you don’t have to press the brake pedal as hard in an emergency. With cruise control, you don’t have to concentrate on monitoring your speed. With TC, you don’t have to be careful under conditions of reduced traction and with ESC you don’t need to worry about using too much power. With predictive cruise, you don’t need to worry about getting too close to the car in front. With lane departure warnings, you don’t have to be vigilant about positioning your car. With blind-spot warning, you don’t need to be careful about looking for other traffic.
    All these take away the SKILL of driving. Unless you know how they work, you can be oblivious of placing yourself in more danger by just letting them operate no matter the circumstances.
    Unfortunately, if a fuse blows, they will no longer work, but the driver may not know – until it’s too late.
    In many states, driving licences are given to those who pass the test and have rudimentary car operation skills – this will simply make it worse, giving a false sense of security.

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