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Who Is Responsible If Self-Driving Car Crashes, Causes Damages, Deaths

Legislation to autonomous vehicle is currently in its infancy and hence not easy to say who will be responsible for crashes of driverless cars that causes physical harm, property damages and in some cases even leads to death.

self-driving cars

As of now corporate giants like Volvo and Tesla have come forward publicly to be taking responsibility of the crashes, or any other faults, in the self-driving cars’ software.

Meanwhile, Comma AI’s CEO George Hotz has a different tone when it comes to taking responsibility. He strictly advises people to download paid version of his self-driving vehicle software and not the free version if he is to stand responsible for any accidents causes by fault in the software.

In one of his recent emails to media houses he wrote, “It’s not my code, I did not release it.” He added that Comma AI Inc. “released and maintains it.”

If the disclaimer of Commma AI Inc. is read, he is right on his path. It reads, “THIS IS ALPHA QUALITY SOFTWARE FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY. THIS IS NOT A PRODUCT. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR COMPLYING WITH LOCAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS. NO WARRANTY EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED.”

autonomous vehicles

It is worth knowing here the open source software lives in a legal grey area, as of now, and several court cases in the 1990s declared it to be “free speech” and protected under First Amendment.

The cases reveal if the software of Comma AI Inc. is proven to be dangerous, the company would be sued, but if someone intend to cause harm with the “free speech,” he or she could be liable.

Meanwhile, legal status of software is still vague as judges and lawyers still argue it is not a “product” and is protected under the First Amendment as it is a set of instructions. Hence, “Buyer Beware” expression does not workout for downloaders.

According to Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Kit Walsh, “Prosecutors and plaintiffs often urge courts to disregard traditional First Amendment protections in the case of software because it has a ‘functional’ aspect when it can be executed, making it easier for the instructions it describes to be followed.”

Some of the lawyers even argue one cannot “contract away” liability if the product is either given away for free or sold is dangerous.

It is also worth mentioning here Hotz and his Comma AI Inc. is protected by MIT license from downloaders of his software.

Author: Sunil Sonkar
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