— The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has proposed self-driving car regulations that could place crash liabilities on drivers who don't follow their owner's manuals to the letter.
Although the wording isn't official and is still being drafted, the DMV seems to appreciate a recommendation proposed by the chief counsel for the driverless car division of General Motors.
Although self-driving car companies may want consumers to believe those companies will be responsible for crashes when the cars are in self-driving mode, the latest proposed rules from the DMV would place the liability for crashes in the laps of car owners.
According to consumer safety organization, Consumer Watchdog, California's proposed rules would mandate that driverless car manufacturers would be responsible for failures of its technology only if owners keep their cars maintained in compliance with manufacturer’s specifications.
In legal speak, the owner of the driverless car would be required to pay for crash damages, repairs, etc., if a manufacturer successfully argues the owner didn't follow all specifications for maintaining the car.
Consumer Watchdog uses an example of a sensor that gets mud on it, blocking the ability of the sensor to "see" oncoming traffic or objects that lead to a crash.
The automaker would only have to show the owner didn't remove the mud fast enough from the sensor, in accordance with maintenance instructions, and the owner would be stuck with all liability for the crash.
The newest proposed regulations are troubling because California is a major player in the self-driving car world and regulations in the state could be picked up and used as an example by other states.
"For years, GM and the driverless car industry have been promising the public that their robot cars will be safer than anything on the road today and that they will bear the responsibility when their robots fail and people are killed or injured. Now their lawyers are sneaking in a “get out of jail free” card that will allow the companies to blame consumers every time the robot causes a crash." - Consumer Watchdog
California regulators originally created strict proposed regulations concerning autonomous vehicles, but those days seem long gone as automakers say the original proposed rules would block innovation and the alleged ability of driverless cars to save lives.
Consumer Watchdog says the California DMV is going beyond its legal limits by crafting the proposed regulations that would immediately take away the rights of consumers in the legal system. If an automaker can link a crash to one small auto part that wasn't greased and maintained based on the owner's manual, it could be enough for the automaker to face no liability at all.
GM and other driverless car companies say they are concerned they will be blamed for everything that goes wrong with a self-driving car when a crash occurs, even if there is evidence other factors were involved.