Who Is Liable When A Driverless Truck Gets Into An Accident?

Many people believe that drivers, operators, and pilots will be replaced by better autonomous versions of their equipment. Drones are an example of unmanned aircraft systems for which the FAA has created a method of certification by those weighing less than 55 pounds. However, large scale drone use will take time. Turning to trucking, the industry accounts for 5% of full-time jobs in the U.S. In the future, autonomous trucks may have a more focused region of operation because of liability issues.

One topic in liability is the fact that trucking is now mostly based in negligence and if autonomous vehicles are used, there may be more of a products liability focus. This means that instead of the trucking company or carrier being fully or mostly liable, since the accident will not be due to driver error (because there will be no driver), but a defect in the product (the truck), the liability will fall onto the manufacturer instead. This is transformative for the industry.

Turning to maritime, autonomous ships have a similar issue. Will the law of general average need to be revised to include the ship manufacturer? What if a seaman is injured on an autonomous ship, who is liable? Will these ships still require the same amount of crew? How will the affect port state control and inspections? These are issues that need to be worked out both internationally and domestically.

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