You have likely heard about Google's new project to develop self-driving cars. They have been testing the cars on California roadways, including driving themselves down Lombard Street in San Francisco. The goal of the project is to minimize injuries and fatalities caused by car accidents. Last week however, one of their cars rear-ended another car.
Google confirms that one of its vehicles was involved in a car accident but says that it was under manual control at the time of the crash. While this accident apparently did not involve the automatic driving mechanism, it raises interesting questions about who will be to blame if an autonomous car gets in a car accident.
Presumably, if these cars are ever sold to the public, the driver would still have some capability to retake control of the car when it is driving itself. It may remain the ultimate responsibility of the driver to ensure that the car is travelling safely and under control. It may be possible though, that Google could have some responsibility, if a driver has a reasonable expectation that the car will operate in a certain way and the car fails and causes an accident.
The accident last week occurred when the Google Prius ran into the back of another (non-Google) Prius. That second car was then pushed into the back of a Honda, which in-turn, ran into the back of another Honda. Finally, the second Honda read-ended yet another Prius.
A Google spokesperson said that this is exactly the type of accident which the self-driving cars are designed to prevent.
Source: Mountain View Voice "Google's self-driving car in five-car crash" Daniel DeBolt, Aug 8, 2011