Debate grows over who is liable when self-driving cars crash

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 24, 2017 - 15:48
  • Updated : Jul 24, 2017 - 17:29


Amid heated debate over who is responsible when car accidents occur in self-driving mode, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s Rep. Park Young-sun has proposed a law recognizing artificial intelligence robots as “electronic personalities,” thereby holding them responsible if necessary.

“Robots have become more than electronic devices. They can now learn information by themselves and their data processing abilities equate to higher-level thinking of humans,” Park said through a statement released last week.

“I have proposed the bill to prepare ahead of a new society where robots and humans coexist. We have to stipulate ethical standards regarding robots and those related to robots to follow.”

Discussion has been rife among carmakers, scholars, lawmakers and related parties over the issue, as global carmakers, IT companies and telecommunications firms are jumping on the bandwagon of autonomous driving technology.

Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, South Korea’s top two auto companies, are aiming to mass produce high-level self-driving vehicles by 2020 and commercialize fully automated cars by 2030.

US-based market research firm Navigant Research projected that self-driving vehicles will make up 85.7 percent of cars on roads by 2035, from 1.1 percent in 2020.

Industry experts say the higher the level of autonomous driving, the more carmakers will be held responsible for accidents.

“Currently drivers are responsible for accidents that occur on partial self-driving, as safety suites installed in the latest cars are assistant systems. But as we reach absolute level 5 of self-driving, carmakers will be held responsible,” said Lee Ho-guen, a professor of the department of automotive engineering at Daeduk University.

According to self-driving vehicle standards set by the US-based Society of Automotive Engineers, there are six standards classified from level zero to 5, with level 5 meaning “full automation” that does not require any intervention by a human driver.

South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation requested the Korea Insurance Research Institute think tank look into insurance cases related to self-driving in April.

“Carmakers currently insure their cars in case of manufacturing defects. The same insurance will be applied for self-driving cars,” Lee said.

The ethical aspects of self-driving cars are also an issue when it comes to the artificial intelligence of fully automated cars.

“No carmaker will want to advertise that their self-driving cars are programmed to protect the owner and sacrifice others in case of accidents. On the other hand, no motorists will want to purchase cars that are programmed to protect others rather than the owners,” said Shim Sang-woo, autonomous vehicle team manager of the Korea Insurance Development Institute.

“A social agreement has to proceed, before programming or laws are set in stone.”

By Kim Bo-gyung (