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Can a Self-Driving Car Receive a Traffic Ticket?

self driving car

Photo credit: +Aleksandr Milewski

If a driverless car is pulled over by a police officer, who gets ticketed? The car? The owner who wasn’t actually driving? No one?

These were the questions posed by various Google+ users when this picture began circulating the web last year. It shows one of Google’s self-driving cars being pulled over by a traffic cop. According to Google, the car is part of the company’s Self-Driving Car Project and the officer in the photo flagged down the car for driving too slowly. Google’s autonomous vehicles have a maximum speed of 25 mph, the company explained.

Although the question seems quite comical, it is actually one that could have major implications for drivers today: If a self-driving car commits a traffic violation, who gets ticketed?

Self-Driving Cars: A Quick Guide

Although self-driving cars might sound like something taken straight from The Jetsons, this technology is actually becoming more of a reality everyday.

As the tech-focused publication WIRED explains, various research groups have been toying with the idea of self-driving vehicles for decades. Google has taken the idea further than any other organization thus far and has been experimenting with real driverless vehicles since 2010 in very controlled environments and always with human oversight.

The cars began hitting real-life streets over the past two years—with a human passenger in tow, just in case there are any safety concerns. At the moment, autonomous cars are still not available to the public, but many people believe that it won’t take long for this technology to make its way into our daily lives.

Are Driverless Cars Actually Safe?

Advocates of self-driving cars claim that these vehicles are very safe and will improve overall safety. Until recently, Google’s self-driving cars seemed to live up to these expectations. Because the cars operate on “smart technology,” which factors in many environmental conditions that humans might not be able to, the cars have successfully driven 1.45 million miles without causing any damage to other vehicles.

However, that changed this past February, when a driverless car in Google’s program was involved in its very first at-fault accident. As The Verge reported, “[Google’s] Lexus RX SUV struck a Mountain View public transit bus last month going only two miles per hour, due in part to a combination of incorrect assumptions on both the human and the software side.

“But Google’s car made the definitive choice to move, and the company has claimed responsibility for the hit. Though no one was injured, the collision has morphed into a symbolic moment for the industry that most saw coming.”

Can Robots Get Traffic Tickets?

Google took responsibility for the recent crash on February 14th, but the situation now raises the question of who is really ticketed and held responsible. Even though no one was injured in the crash, a human driver making the same mistake would receive a traffic ticket.

Who is really held accountable in this situation? Is it fair to hold the passenger accountable when he or she was not technically responsible for the violation? Whose driver’s license is penalized, and who is responsible for paying the ticket? How many times can a self-driving car make a mistake on the road before it is somehow punished?

None of these questions have been answered yet, and our team at The Law Offices of Barbara A. Bowden certainly doesn’t have the answers, either! We know that traffic tickets can be frustrating for real drivers, but these laws are also intended to help keep the roads of Tacoma, Washington, safe.

So what do you think? As self-driving cars become more imminent, how should our traffic laws change in order to accommodate them? Let us know your thoughts!