When A Robot Rear-Ends You

Who is liable when a self-driving car gets in an accident? Russell Brandom navigates the tricky legal situation:

Many of Google's planned features may simply never be legal. One difficult feature is the "come pick me up" button that Larry Page has pushed as a solution to parking congestion. Instead of wasting energy and space on urban parking lots, why not have cars drop us off and then drive themselves to park somewhere more remote, like an automated valet?

It's a genuinely good idea, and one Google seems passionate about, but it's extremely difficult to square with most vehicle codes. The Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949) requires that drivers "shall at all times be able to control their vehicles," and provisions against reckless driving usually require "the conscious and intentional operation of a motor vehicle." Some of that is simple semantics, but other concerns are harder to dismiss. After a crash, drivers are legally obligated to stop and help the injured — a difficult task if there's no one in the car.

As a result, most experts predict drivers will be legally required to have a person in the car at all times, ready to take over if the automatic system fails. If they're right, the self-parking car may never be legal.