[Korea and the fourth industrial revolution <6-2 Car>] Who’s held liable when an autonomous vehicle crashes?

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[Korea and the fourth industrial revolution <6-2 Car>] Who’s held liable when an autonomous vehicle crashes?

The auto industry is accelerating at an ever faster rate. A completely autonomous car could be developed in less than five years, but the vehicle might not be able to hit the road because government regulations and infrastructure aren’t catching up.

The Korean government has allowed test operation of self-driving vehicles since 2015 but only on a limited number of highways. The island of Yeouido in western Seoul recently lifted restrictions to allow testing of self-driving cars on roads with pedestrians, buildings and traffic lights.

By contrast, the United States has been generous with loosening regulations on real-road tests of autonomous cars. The state of Nevada was the first to approve self-driving car operation in 2012, followed by Florida, California, Michigan Washington and more. California is poised to allow cars with no driver behind the wheel by the end of this year.

The Korean government pledged to reform regulations on autonomous car testing, transportation infrastructure and auto insurance policies under the premise that a Level 3 autonomous car will hit the road in 2020. It designated an area of Hwaseong, a city just south of Seoul, as “K-City,” the Korean equivalent of Michigan’s Mcity, to allow testing of all types of autonomous cars in an urban environment. Construction is scheduled to finish by the latter half of next year.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said in April that it has established a task force comprising experts from diverse industries from insurance to finance that is dedicated to reviewing or newly legislating related regulations.

“The ministry will come up with a system that handles recalls and approvals of autonomous vehicles step by step,” an official from the Transport Ministry said.

The insurance system is also somewhat in a state of limbo, wondering who should be held liable when a fully autonomous car causes an accident based on its systemized algorithm. If a self-driving car carrying a passenger hits a passerby in an attempt to avoid a sinkhole as programmed, for example, there is damage but also no perpetrator under current regulations.

According to a study by UBS, Korea ranked 19th and 23rd out of 139 countries in terms of having the education and skill level to adapt to the fourth industrialization revolution.

In terms of legal protection, though, Korea was 62nd.

“The insurance system will start to change drastically from Level 3 vehicles when autonomous functions dominate the car’s operation,” said Lee Choong-ki, head of the Center for Roboethics & Roboloaw at Hongik University.

In the case of an accident, the manufacturer might not be at fault either if the artificial intelligence software was found to have functioned as trained.

“The plausible solution is for both passenger and the car manufacturer to join an insurance policy for the car’s AI, which will be perceived as a robot that has its own autonomy,” he added.

Tesla has been attempting to provide an insurance policy of its own that is customized for its electric and partially autonomous vehicles.

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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