Last time, we began looking at how driverless technology, while largely cutting out human error and thus reducing many types of motor vehicle accidents, may simultaneously be increasing the possibility of certain other types of accidents.

The data is still rather scant to make definite conclusions, but given what we know so far, one of the questions facing manufacturers is whether driverless cars should be programmed to occasionally break the law in order to avoid certain types of accidents—a sort of adaptive ability to occasionally break the law for the sake of safety. 

From a legal perspective, it is certainly an interesting question, and one which could easily be raised with respect to human drivers as well. That is, could a driver’s traffic infractions be used against him or her in a court of law, even though those violations occurred as part of the driver’s effort to avoid an accident? Examples might include speeding to blend in with other traffic, crossing over a double solid line in order to merge safely with traffic, and untimely crossing into another lane or onto a highway shoulder in order to avoid an accident. Naturally, when there is no harm as a result of such driving, there is not likely to be any issue, except, perhaps, if a scrupulous police officer witnessed the driving maneuver, deemed it illegal, and chose to make an example.

In civil litigation, the issue could come up not only with respect to another driver who was harmed as a result of such a maneuver, but also with respect to a driver who is sued and claims contributory negligence.

In our next post, we’ll look at both of these issues.