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Insights on how to handle liability issues with driverless cars

The newest offerings from Cadillac, Mercedes Benz, BMW and other luxury automakers will include some of the elements that will eventually be autonomous vehicles. These cars are not expected to hit the road until the end of the decade at the earliest, but the introduction of this technology brings a host of new legal issues that have yet to be addressed.

One of these questions is who could, or should, be held responsible if an autonomous vehicle is involved in an accident. Essentially, will the question be viewed as a products liability issue or a negligence claim? 

A report produced this year by the Brookings Institute could provide some insight regarding the answer. Like many other legal issues that are introduced, our legal system can adapt to answer the questions that will likely arise, but future liability issues are likely to be resolved by using the following standards:

Federal law should not preempt state law - Essentially, each state should be allowed to create laws to resolve liability disputes according to their own traditions and standards. With auto accidents, states are generally better equipped to handle these problems.

Federal standards may be borne from commercial interstate travel -  If uniform safety standards are implemented, they should first apply to commercial vehicles that travel between states. So like current safety standards (i.e. prohibition on use of electronic devices, safety inspections, maintenance of travel logs), a deviation from them may be considered as a breach of the duty to use reasonable care in the maintenance autonomous driving functions. 

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