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If a hacked car crashes, who is held liable?

As Google continues to push forward with its plans to release a self-driving car in the near future, we are starting to see science fiction become science reality. In a few decades, gone will be the days of human-operated vehicles. Our vehicles instead will be controlled by onboard computers that will not only be able to predict traffic patterns and guide us to our destination faster, they will also be able to react faster to sudden incidences that would otherwise end in an accident.

But while most people in society are ready to relinquish control to the self-driving vehicles of the future, a recent warning issued by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the FBI this month indicates that we may need to move forward into this "brave new world" with a little more caution. That's because vehicles with an internet connection, which includes self-driving cars, are vulnerable to hackers who may be able to cause accidents self-driving cars cannot avoid. If this is the case, this creates a very important question:

If a hacked car crashes, who is held liable?

The answer to this question relies on several variables but ultimately, there are three parties that could be held liable if a hacked car crashes. The first person who would likely be held liable is the hacker. This, of course, requires authorities to apprehend the hacker, which may be far more difficult to do than most people think.

The second person who could be held liable, instead of the hacker, is the driver themselves. This would happen in situations where the driver chose to ignore a recall designed to prevent just such an occurrence from happening, which is exactly the issue we outlined in last week's post.

The third party who could be held liable is the automaker. This would happen if the automaker was aware of a security risk but failed to take proper action to fix the problem.

Regardless of who is held liable, it is ultimately the insurance providers of the last two parties that would pay the most for a vehicle hacking incident, which is not the "brave new world" most insurance companies are looking forward to.

Sources: FindLaw, "If Your Car Gets Hacked, Are You Liable for a Crash?" Christopher Coble, Esq., Aug 24, 2015

Reuters, "FBI warns automakers, owners about vehicle hacking risks," David Shepardson, March 18, 2016

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