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Should Self-driving Cars Be Programmed to Break the Law?

The chances of seeing self-driving cars — meaning those that are largely free from human control and completely reliant on a complex system of software and sensors — out on the roads and highways anytime soon probably seem pretty remote to most people.

The reality, however, is that these self-driving cars are already out on the roads and highways, with engineers working dutifully to perfect a technology that they believe will reduce emissions, lower traffic congestion in heavily populated areas and, most significantly, prevent motor vehicle accidents.

As impressive and exciting as this is, it’s important to understand that self-driving technology has already presented very significant safety challenges to engineers.

For example, they are currently facing the dilemma of whether they need to program their self-driving cars to commit periodic traffic infractions in order to perform better in real world traffic scenarios.

While this may seem like a bizarre notion, consider what can happen when a self-driving car attempts to merge onto a freeway at the posted speed limit despite the fact that traffic is moving much faster or when it won’t cross a double line to avoid a bicyclist.

Consider also that the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute has found that self-driving cars have an accident rate twice that of cars with humans behind the wheel.

Here, the researchers determined that the self-driving cars were actually never at-fault, and that the majority of the crashes involved drivers who were unaccustomed to the “by-the-book” driving approach of the self-driving cars.

Any move to program a self-driving car to act more aggressively, (i.e., drive more like the typical human driver) will present certain ethical and, of course, legal concerns. How far companies developing this technology are prepared to go remains to be seen.

What are your thoughts?

If you’ve been seriously injured or lost a loved one due to the negligent actions of another motorist, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to learn more about your options for pursuing justice.