Businesses developing self-driving cars talk up the technology』s potential to improve road safety. They had better be right — for financial as well as humane reasons. They will bear most of the liability for crashes. Automotive groups have a long history of product recalls and compensation payouts for the failures of far simpler systems.
Alphabet』s Waymo operates robotaxis in Arizona, Tesla works feverishly on 「self-driving」 modes and General Motors plans to deliver autonomous vehicles by mid-decade. The push has prompted the UK』s Law Commission to propose that users of self-driving cars should have immunity from a wide range of motoring offences, including dangerous driving.
Alphabet的Waymo在亞利桑那州營運機器人出租車，特斯拉(Tesla)正積極研發「自動駕駛」模式，通用汽車(General Motors)計劃在十年中期推出自動駕駛汽車。這一舉措促使英國法律委員會(Law Commission)提議，自動駕駛汽車的用戶應享有一系列駕駛違法行為的豁免權，包括危險駕駛。
Car manufacturers have been accountable for defective vehicles since a row in the US over Ford Pinto fuel tank fires in the 1970s. The industry spent billions of dollars last decade recalling vehicles affected by the exploding airbags made by Japan』s Takata.
Liabilities for self-driving cars are less clear-cut. Owners will sometimes have to take the wheel in an emergency or in heavy rain. German lawmakers consider they should then be legally responsible. The Law Commission believes such carve-outs are unworkable.
Under the proposals, vehicle manufacturers or software developers will need sufficient funds to organise recalls and pay fines. That might stifle the emergence of innovative start-ups.
Perhaps they could buy insurance? But self-driving cars would be a greater headache for Lloyd』s of London than other speciality lines. The risks in screeds of computer code are hard to assess. There are also cyber security issues. The International Underwriting Association of London raises the nightmare possibility of numerous accidents occurring simultaneously. That could pose a risk to insurers』 solvency, the IUA says.
也許他們可以買保險？但對於倫敦勞合社(Lloyd 's of London)來說，自動駕駛汽車將比其他專業汽車更讓人頭疼。冗長的計算機代碼的風險很難評估。還有網路安全問題。倫敦國際承保協會(International Underwriting Association of London)提出了同時發生數起事故的可怕可能性。IUA說，這可能會給保險公司的償付能力帶來風險。
None of this will deter developers. China』s Geely plans to have autonomous vehicles by 2024. Volkswagen expects self-driving cars to transform the industry. It recently earmarked €89bn for electric vehicle and software development.
Carmakers will end up provisioning for claims raised by ambulance-chasing lawyers too. Asymmetries in blame culture make them vulnerable. Human errors produce 90 per cent of road traffic crashes. Only self-driving accidents attract world media coverage. As Tesla boss Elon Musk recently acknowledged, autonomous vehicle makers may not be rewarded for the lives they save. They should, though, expect to be punished for those that are lost.
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