The idea of a driverless car is one that could revolutionize the way we travel, and incredibly increase the quality of life of those that regularly drive their car. A driverless car would effectively prevent drunk driving, car accidents, bad traffic, delays, and much more. So with all of these factors, it seems that driverless cars are the answer to a lot of problems.
In a way they are, but in another, they will create new and unique issues that the legal system has never faced.
Consider the idea that many movies, tv shows, books, video games, etc have considered – when given a choice, what would artificial intelligence choose. We as people use a combination of logical and emotional driven thought. For example, using a common philosophical question, if you were walking on a train track, and you reach a split in the tracks.
As you get closer you see that on one side of the fork there are 5 people, and the other you see one person. A train is coming, and none of the people are able to hear or see you. You notice the train is going to strike the group of 5. You could change the tracks so that the train instead hits the 1 person, or you could do nothing and let the train hit the 5 people. In all of these examples, you as the person walking on the tracks has a responsibility to choose one of the given paths and will be responsible for that choice. It would be a remarkably different choice to make, and none of the choices available are 100% good.
Obviously, this is a very difficult idea to work through, but people (to a significantly lesser degree) make decisions like this a lot more than they realize. The responsibility of driving a car is a good example in which people’s lives are in the hands of the driver at any given time. In these situations, people are able to interpret the information, and compare it to their life experiences and choose what to do. Sometimes this choice means that they are liable for the injury of another individual, or might mean that the driver was able to slam on the brakes before hitting a stopped car in front of them. The simple part of this is that a person is liable and responsible for their own actions.
At that moment the driverless car would sense the person, execute many points of data through its programming, and “decide” within nano-seconds what to do. While a person may choose to sacrifice themselves, the driverless car may have access to more information that leads it to choose a different path. This is a very difficult thing to consider not only from a philosophical and moral standpoint but a legal one as well.
So how would a driverless car differ? Well while we are responsible for our own actions, artificial intelligence (unless there is a significant breakthrough in the field of science) will not have that same level of responsibility. So Imagine you were in a driverless car and took your eyes off the road, and a pedestrian decides to run into the street.
In the case that your driverless car causes harm to another vehicle or being, who would be responsible? In the example above, you may not be paying attention to the road. Would you be responsible? Would the car be considered an entity in the case and be liable? Would the programmer, or city, or state, or federal government be responsible? These are the difficult questions that have to be considered before driverless cars can become a reality.
The goal of driverless cars is, in fact, to completely prevent accidents such as this, and any others that you could think of. That does not mean that they will 100% have that ability. The programming may have a bug, or the car may come into contact with a set of information it has never interpreted before, and cause an accident that could have been avoided.
The truth is that we do not have all of the answers to these things yet. Luckily, however, this does mean that the legal system will grow and adapt to these new ideas. In an ideal world, driverless cars will mean 100% safety on the roads, and zero accidents will happen. In the event that this scenario isn’t a reality, the legal system will be there with the answers. Interestingly enough, as the technology for driverless cars progresses, so too will the laws about them.