Realistically speaking, we’re probably still a few years away from seeing fully self-driving cars on public roads, but Volvo wants to get the legal ball rolling even while such cars are still in development. Becoming the first ever car maker to have the guts to make a very early promise, Volvo Cars president and CEO Håkan Samuelsson says that the company is prepared to be legally liable for any mishap caused by its cars when driving in autonomous mode. Hopefully by then, reported accidents won’t be as many.
Earlier this year, several reports came out listing the number of accidents involving self-driving cars that are still being tested. Google was quick to put the matter into context, claiming that, ironically, the accidents were due to the human pilots and caused by errors from the robot AI. Regardless of cause, it doesn’t inspire much confidence in the technology yet, making Volvo’s promise sound bold, ambitious, and almost arrogant.
But that is exactly the shock reaction that Samuelsson is going for. To be exact, he is trying to shock the US government into picking up the slack and to establish nationwide regulations for developing and testing self-driving cars. It is rare for a private company to insist that a government exert more control, but again, that is what Volvo is aiming for. Currently, each state has its own rules and guidelines when it comes to autonomous cars. If a car maker wants to bring its self-driving cars to a different state, it has to go through the entire approval process again and again.
Samuelsson likens this situation to that of the European Union, which as what he describes is a patchwork of rules and regulations. European automobile makers, even German ones, have more or less implied that the US has had a head start when it comes to the development of self-driving cars. Samuelsson fears that this lead might be for naught if development will be bogged down by legal disarray spread across 50 states.
At the root of this disorganization is the fact that lawmakers were caught unawares by this new trend. What at first seemed like an isolated, hobby project from Google has developed into an industry-wide effort to lessen the direct involvement of humans in the act of driving, in the hopes of lessening vehicular accidents.