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Towards a Control-Centric Account of Tort Liability for Automated Vehicles

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Document pages: 34 pages

Abstract: Existing motor vehicle accident laws are generally described as ‘driver-centric’, since regulatory, liability, and insurance obligations revolve around drivers. This is sometimes taken to imply that they cannot apply to automated vehicles. This article seeks to re-centre the liability discussion around the tortious doctrine of control. It argues centrally that properly understanding legal control as influence over metaphysical risks, rather than physical objects, clarifies that automated vehicles are both legally controllable in theory, despite having no human drivers, and legally controlled in practice, despite their reliance on machine learning. Examining today’s automated driving technology and businesses, this article demonstrates how manufacturers, software developers, fleet operators, and consumers participate in vehicular risk creation. Finally, how control could illuminate courts’ analyses of automated vehicle liability is illustrated by a hypothetical application to recent automated vehicle accidents. In this light, this article concludes that existing tort principles are better-equipped to resolve liability issues arising from the use of automated vehicles than initially apparent.

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