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Self-Driving Car Manufacturers: Ethical and Legal Issues Essay

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Updated: Jun 23rd, 2021

The ethical and legal questions surrounding the development of self-driving cars are at the center of the discussion in this area of the automotive industry. The question of who is responsible for accidents with the participation of self-driving vehicles remains open. Moreover, the place of robots in the legal sphere is also unclear due to their level of autonomy and complexity of operation (Hevelke & Nida-Rümelin, 2015).

Currently, companies manufacturing these vehicles are divided in their opinions about this issue, but most are ready to assume responsibility for accidents or robots’ failures (Slaby, 2016). However, it is possible that this decision is guided not by businesses’ honest desire to protects drivers but the novelty of self-driving cars and the necessity to increase sales rates. This discussion will consider a scenario in which self-driving car manufacturers attempt to introduce waivers of liability to lower their responsibility for accidents.

In this case, companies ask buyers of self-driving cars to sign a contract that requires them always to have their hands on the wheel and to assume legal responsibility for any criminal violations and accidents. Thus, by purchasing a car, a person’s liabilities appear to be similar to those of a driver of an ordinary vehicle.

In theory, waivers of liability do not have strict rules of enforcement in all states. According to Cotton (2020), the effectiveness of such documents greatly depends on the state and several conditions that both the company and the person have to follow. First of all, several states do not enforce liability waivers at all (Cotton, 2020). In these situations, the company may still be liable in case of an accident, especially if It is caused by the failure of software or hardware in the self-driving car.

In states where liability waivers have to adhere to strict standards, the usefulness of liability waivers may depend on their text and the accident’s details. Referring to standards, some parts of the United States require service providers to clearly describe the conditions under which the liability waiver is valid, thus limiting the number of occasions where a driver can dispute the document (Cotton, 2020). A properly worded contract with a transparent description of human drivers’ responsibilities may put some of the liability on the human behind the wheel.

Furthermore, the severity of negligence also has to be taken into account. In scenarios of gross negligence or willful and reckless conduct, waivers may not be accepted in court (Cotton, 2020). Therefore, an event that clearly shows the blame of the manufacturer will likely make the company liable regardless of the contract’s conditions. Several recent accidents involving self-driving cars demonstrate that it is possible to prove whether they were caused due to human error or software defect (Slaby, 2016). Thus, even if the waiver were accepted under state law, it would still fail to protect the company from liability in all cases completely.

Overall, one can see that self-driving cars still pose many ethical questions both to manufacturers and drivers. The lack of strict laws makes each scenario unique and calls for discussions about liability. The use of liability waivers does not guarantee the manufacturer full freedom from responsibility. In some states, these documents are not enforced, while other areas ask for a particular language to be implemented to make the waiver useful. More than that, the severity of negligence that companies can show in manufacturing self-driving cars also affects the possibility of using waivers.

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IvyPanda. (2021, June 23). Self-Driving Car Manufacturers: Ethical and Legal Issues. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/self-driving-car-manufacturers-ethical-and-legal-issues/

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"Self-Driving Car Manufacturers: Ethical and Legal Issues." IvyPanda, 23 June 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/self-driving-car-manufacturers-ethical-and-legal-issues/.

1. IvyPanda. "Self-Driving Car Manufacturers: Ethical and Legal Issues." June 23, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/self-driving-car-manufacturers-ethical-and-legal-issues/.


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IvyPanda. "Self-Driving Car Manufacturers: Ethical and Legal Issues." June 23, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/self-driving-car-manufacturers-ethical-and-legal-issues/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Self-Driving Car Manufacturers: Ethical and Legal Issues." June 23, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/self-driving-car-manufacturers-ethical-and-legal-issues/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Self-Driving Car Manufacturers: Ethical and Legal Issues'. 23 June.

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