GM Facing First Lawsuit for Accident with Autonomous Vehicle
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GM Facing First Lawsuit for Accident with Autonomous Vehicle

Monday, March 19, 2018By Richard Alexander

As the law tries to keep up with technology, many wonder whether the existing legal framework is adequate to deal with new issues presented by autonomous cars. These concerns come in the wake of one of the first lawsuits involving an automobile accident with a self-driving car. General Motors (GM) could be the test case for assessing driver liability when auto accidents occur in self-driving mode. And certainly, these issues will only become more complex as technology moves closer to fully autonomous vehicles.

The accident occurred in December, 2017 when, according to motorcyclist Oscar Nilsson, a Chevrolet Bolt operating in autonomous mode with a driver at the wheel veered without warning into Nilsson’s lane and threw him to the ground upon impact. The crash took place on a heavily trafficked road in San Francisco while the GM car was traveling at 12 mph and the motorcycle was traveling at 17 mph.

The official accident report contradicts the motorcyclist’s version of events. According to the report, the car attempted to move into a side lane from a center lane. When it could not do so due to high volume, it repositioned itself in the middle lane. Simultaneously a motorcyclist was lane-splitting between the center and right lanes and moved into the center lane and made contact with the car and fell over. The report concludes that the motorcyclist was at fault for improperly attempting to pass another car when it was not safe to do so.

GM maintains that it is not responsible for the accident and the official report appears to corroborate its conclusion. It adds that it rigorously tests its self-driving cars in road conditions that are difficult for drivers to navigate. But the question remains: after a self-driving car is purchased by an individual, who is to blame when an accident occurs? Is it the driver who may not retain full control of the car, or the manufacturer, who is ultimately responsible for the operation of the vehicle?

The key to assessing liability could be the car’s data collection mechanism. But it is unclear whether the car manufacturer will want to turn it over and whether it will be required to do so. So far, GM’s self-driving cars has been relatively free of accidents. Of the 22 crashes in 2017 related to autonomous driving technology, all were determined to be the result of human error.

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