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

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.

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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?