Monday, 19 December 2016

Uber, Self-Driving And The Law Of Unintended Consequences


Uber announced that it begun passenger trials with self-driving Volvos in San Francisco. Within hours California's DMV had demanded that Uber desist, something which Uber vocally declined to do.

Which raises some interesting questions.

Firstly, to what extent do the San Francisco authorities have control over what happens on the streets of San Francisco? Presumably, having declined to halt its trials, Uber's self-driving vehicles have been collecting passengers for the best part of a week now without any form of sanction. Does the DMV have any teeth?

Secondly, what defines a self-driving vehicle? Uber claims its technology is of the same level as that being used by Tesla and requires that a human be sat in the driver's seat at all times. Which may indeed be the case, but having the vehicle filmed ignoring a red signal wasn't helpful to the companies case.

Nor will the knowledge that the only sticking point is the application for an appropriate self-driving license, which Uber claims is not required because of the engineer in the driving seat. The suggestion being that the Uber isn't self-driving at all. Or is self-driving, whichever argument suits Uber at the time.

Which has some very clear legal implications for the engineers sat in the driving seat. If they are in charge of the vehicle if it is involved in an incident - whether they are actively driving or not - they will carry the can for the criminal and civil liabilities that arise, not Uber.

Given the potential for civil suits relating to accidents or incidents caused by a self-driving car this might turn out to be the real reason why Uber wants to avoid applying for a permit for the self-driving trial.

It claims that a human was in control when the red light was run last week, a claim it has positioned itself to make for any further incidents too.

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