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Who's To Blame for Accidents By Self-Driving Cars?

When a computer makes a mistake, should we blame the driver, or the manufacturer?

By Zhang Qingchen Updated Jul.10

Under Chinese law, minor driving offenses come with a fine of 200 yuan (US$29.40) and 3 penalty points on the license. But who pays the fine - and is held responsible - in the case of a traffic violation committed by a driver-less vehicle? Should the rider be blamed, or the manufacturer?

In a case last Wednesday, the rider and manufacturer were the same person - Baidu's CEO Li Yanhong (Robin Li). Li live-streamed himself riding in a Baidu-made self-driving car on Beijing fifth ring road, but the autonomous vehicle changed lane without using a turn signal, drawing attention from the audience - and the traffic police.

As there are no clear regulations or laws covering self-driving cars, an anonymous staff member at the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, noted that it can only be assumed that the person sitting in the driver’s seat should take the responsibility.  But if the technology is poor, the manufacturer could be held responsible if driver-less cars get into accidents due to technical faults, Li Yusheng, an engineer at the Changan Automotive Research Institute, argued. 

The day after the incident, police stated that although they support innovation, they would investigate possible violations of existing traffic laws in driver-less vehicles.