California regulators side with GM recommendation to remove manufacturer liability from autonomous vehicles

Published: November 30, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones



Regulatory groups in California are getting on board with a General Motors recommendation that aims to take liability away from self-driving car manufacturers when an autonomous vehicle is involved in a collision.

If the California Department of Motor Vehicles adopt the recommendation, it would almost absolve carmakers of liability and lawsuits. However, it would only be if the vehicles have not been maintained to the manufacturers’ specifications.

It has been widely predicted car brands making autonomous vehicles would pick up liability in the event of an accident. That’s because drivers cannot be at fault because they have no control over the vehicle. However, there is going to be a decade-long period between now and full autonomy. In-between, manufacturers will try to cover their backs, despite initially agreeing to assume liability.

  • SAE Level 0 – human does everything, like current cars
  • SAE Level 1 – some in-car systems can aid the human in the operation of the vehicle
  • SAE Level 2 – the autonomous tech can complete some driving tasks, but human monitoring is needed.
  • SAE Level 3 – the system conducts some driving and monitors some of the environment, but human must be ready as backup
  • SAE Level 4 – the system can conduct driving tasks without any input from humans. However, the system only works under some conditions. This is where the current market is.
  • SAE Level 5 is when the car can perform all tasks without the need for a human driver.

Whether other manufacturers will side with GM remains to be seen. If liability remains, at least in part, on the drivers, insurance companies will probably be happy. Liability shifting to manufacturers could mean those companies just creating their own insurance solutions. Autonomous vehicles are expected to severely impact the auto insurance industry as collisions fall.