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Debate grows over who is responsible in accidents during self-driving

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Amid heated debate over who is responsible when car accidents occur on self-driving mode, the ruling Democratic Party’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 the 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 co-exist. We have to stipulate ethical standards regarding robots and those related to robots to follow.”

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

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 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 human drivers.

In the UK, insurance companies provide insurance money for the wounded party before they ask carmakers for compensation when an accident occurs due to manufacturing defects.

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

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

Lee added that the prices of fully automated cars would not skyrocket once carmakers start mass production of autonomous vehicles.

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 programed 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 (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)

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