Can self-driving car be jailed for causing accident? World wonders who to blame

Autonomous or self-driving cars aren't a fantasy but are already charging down the automotive path in many parts of the world.Are self-driving cars ca
File photo used for representational purpose.
File photo used for representational purpose.

Autonomous or self-driving vehicles are not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. While flying cars were seen as the next big thing in the world of personal mobility - and work is taking place on that front too, self-driving vehicles are in fact not just closer to reality but very much here. With a mind and senses of its own, a self-driving vehicle promises to let the driver sit back and enjoy the journey while navigating its way through all sorts of road conditions and on almost every terrain. But it isn't quite as easy a drive as proponents of the technology would have one and all believe. As and when such vehicles start getting a green signal from authorities and begin entering the mass-market spaces, the doubts and queries surrounding such vehicles also increase.

What is an autonomous vehicle?

Much like the names itself, autonomous or self-driving vehicle is a vehicle that requires either no or minimal human input as it navigates through public roads.

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A slew of advanced technologies which also include cameras, sensors and radars act as the eyes, ears and brain of the vehicle and allows it to - as suggested by claims - drive itself on roads. Some of the key players involved in developing the technology even go to the extent of bragging that a self-driving car is safer than a conventional vehicle.

So, does a self-driving car drive better than you?

Tesla CEO Elon Musk had previously claimed that the self-driving technology being developed by his company is better than an actual person driving the car because it negates chances of human errors. While there may be some weight to that argument considering we can be prone to distractions and factors such as fatigue or stress can affect our abilities to drive, it is also true that people are perhaps more capable of preempting constantly changing road and traffic factors. This really comes down to the debate on whether robots will replace humans in the future.

Also Read : Tesla driver faces felony charges in US, crash involving Autopilot killed two

Who will be blamed post an accident?

While advocates of self-driving technology claim that such vehicles are far more safe than conventional vehicles, there is a big debate about who - or what - would be blamed in case of an accident. You can't really jail a car or the technology, can you? But if the person behind the wheel wasn't driving when an accident took place, even he or she cannot be held entirely liable, right?

Also Read : Study finds Tesla drivers become less attentive after engaging AutoPilot

In parts of the world where self-driving vehicles have been permitted on public roads, the stated rule is that the person ‘driving’ needs to keep hands on the steering and pay attention at all times. In case of an emergency situation, he or she shall take over control. But that's not exactly happening because people have been found napping, reading books or even watching porn while letting their self-driving cars drive.

This image provided by General Motors shows the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, an upcoming SUV that features Cadillac's Super Cruise technology. (AP)
This image provided by General Motors shows the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, an upcoming SUV that features Cadillac's Super Cruise technology. (AP)

In the UK, a government body has suggested that the country should pass a law regulating self-driving vehicles and include sanctions for companies if anything goes wrong when or after the autopilot functionality is activated.

What does the future hold?

Britain had announced last year that the country would become the first to regulate the use of self-driving vehicles at slow speeds on motorways. Clearly, the technology isn't coming but is here already. Now it is about studying the real-world use-case situation and letting companies improve the technology to plug any loopholes.

First Published Date: 26 Jan 2022, 09:45 AM IST

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