By on October 10, 2015

IntelliSafe Auto Pilot interface

Volvo Cars President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson announced Thursday in Washington, DC, that the automaker would “accept full liability whenever one if its cars is in autonomous mode,” making Volvo one of the first automakers to solve one of many important legal issues that face autonomous vehicles.

Volvo made the announcement just days after launching a project in Sweden that will see 100 Volvo XC90s with autonomous functionality hitting the roads around Gothenburg in 2017.

During a seminar — “A Future with Self Driving Cars – Is it Safe?” — at House of Sweden in DC hosted by Volvo Cars and the Embassy of Sweden, Samuelsson explained that while the U.S. is the most progressive country when it comes to autonomous vehicles, the legal patchwork created by individual states could hinder that leadership.

“The U.S. risks losing its leading position due to the lack of Federal guidelines for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles. Europe has suffered to some extent by having a patchwork of rules and regulations. It would be a shame if the US took a similar path to Europe in this crucial area,” Samuelsson stated.

“The absence of one set of rules means car makers cannot conduct credible tests to develop cars that meet all the different guidelines of all 50 US states,” he said. “If we are to ensure a smooth transition to autonomous mobility then together we must create the necessary framework that will support this.”

As of May 2015, California, Nevada, Michigan, Florida and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to regulate the operation of autonomous cars on public roads, according to Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society Cyberlaw Wiki.

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31 Comments on “Volvo Will Accept Liability If Their Autonomous Cars Crash...”

  • avatar

    Now we can actually complain about a car driving like “a ____ brand driver” without being called stereotypical. After all, driving style is a part of the brand identity. I just wonder if BMW will program its autonomous cars to tailgate other drivers and park across two handicap spots.

  • avatar

    Glad to know it, but it certainly doesn’t draw me to the brand in any way.

  • avatar

    I didn’t know that Swedes were capable of such hubris.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This does answer a huge question, but I find it rather remarkable and gutsy.

    What a gift to car insurance companies, but I wonder what the discussion inside Volvo looked like to arrive at that proclamation. Perhaps he spoke out of turn, because I can’t imagine a company attorney signing up for this.

    Or, maybe all their autonomous cars will max out at 30 mph and be made of rubber.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I’d be careful if I were Volvo. They cannot oversee all of the far-reaching consequences. And you might say that it is fundamentally wrong. In the same way that we haven gotten a claim culture, blaming others than yourself for obesity, cancer from smoking, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      Car Insurance will probably be tacked to the side of the automobile’s monthly premium, co-branded with some local insurance shop to make it look legit.

      Like OnStar, but with Flo advertising it.

    • 0 avatar

      The risk lies in how the courts will respond to property loss, injury,and death claims coupled with unscrupleous people causing accidents for personal gain.
      For example: Years back there wad a court ruling related to EMT emeregency responses that put drivers of emergency vehicles to a higher standard than civilians. After this ruling there was an incease in MVC’s with fire/EMT units. In many cases it was cheaper to settle out of court than fight the frivolity of each claim.

  • avatar

    I imagine there will be a lot of get-outs in the small print of any sale contract, eg. “We will only accept liability if the systems have been serviced and certified by one of our $400/hour technicians in the previous 6 months and full uploading telematics have not been disabled in any time since. Vehicle loading must be under certain limits at all times (and we have the sensors to tell), and weather must be within certain parameters (which we will make up on the spot).”

  • avatar

    Full liability? That’s crazy talk. The legal department will backpedal out of that.

  • avatar

    Could this mean that Volvo expects these cars to be in fully autonomous mode about as frequently or as long as VW diesels are in US-legal spew mode?

  • avatar

    A few miles south of where I live, there is a school zone where the lower speed limit is only in effect “when children are present”. I’d like to see how one of these P.O.S. AV systems from Volvo handles that.

    • 0 avatar

      “I can think of one instance where autonomous systems have limitations, therefore autonomous systems are useless.” I’m not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, Lou…

      • 0 avatar

        “I can think of one instance where autonomous systems have limitations, therefore autonomous systems are useless.”

        As co-designer of a runway collision detection system and a participant in the last DARPA Challenge, I have more than enough experience to know where these systems will fail. There are plenty of scenarios, but I don’t want to give my competitors help. I have a well equipped lab too with the same equipment Google and the auto companies have.

        • 0 avatar

          I was not calling your expertise or experience into question, just your reasoning. But since you brought it up:

          John Deere patented the ROPS (roll-over protective structure) in 1966, but later released the concept to other tractor companies royalty-free because preventing deaths was more important to them than not “giving their competitors help.” In less than 20 years, a ROPS was required equipment for all tractors.

          • 0 avatar

            Good point about John Deere. I do plan on getting involved when the States start defining test standards. Issues like pitting (like your headlights)on the scanner cover. How will the system react when there’s one or more .5 millimeter pits on the cover. By then, I’ll have a decent patent portfolio in place.

          • 0 avatar

            That sounds like a good business plan.

  • avatar

    There will be a few Swedish heads rolling around in Beijing in the coming months, right after the big lawsuit and the realization that it could happen many more times.

    Autonomous is great for 99% of situations, but that 1% will cost a lot. Anyone remember that Airbus crash when the computer locked the pilot out of the controls? If Airbus with all their resources and the eagle eyes of FAA and FAI watching them can’t pull it off, it’s difficult to imagine Volvo can do it anytime soon.

    • 0 avatar

      No, I don’t remember the one where the Airbus pilot was doing all the right things and was not going to crash anyway but the plane “locked the pilot out of the controls”.


      • 0 avatar

        As I recall hearing, the pilots set the controls for a low-speed flyby, but the computer thought it was configured for landing.

      • 0 avatar

        beast, it sounds like you know exactly the incident I am talking about.

        Although the ruling came out against the pilot, it’s incredible to me that a distinguished pilot of 20 years, in fair weather, could not make the simple correction for flying 70 feet too low. Also, the police to the conclusion that the black box was switched out. Airbus had the incentive and the political and economic clout to influence the ruling.

        For the rest of the people that want to look into it themselves, here’s the link:

        • 0 avatar

          Then we are talking about the same crash, and in my industry experience, everyone I know understands that crash to be 100% the pilot’s fault. He got way behind the airplane, didn’t have enough energy, and engines take a long time to spool by design. Just because the computer didn’t allow him to stall doesn’t mean he was locked out, any more than ABS not letting you brake more because your tires are already locked up means you are locked out.

          The fact that he “feels” like the engines didn’t respond to the power command is pretty common for people under stress, because large turbofan engines take seconds to spool up.

          Since we have video of the crash from outside it’s also observable that the plane was very low on energy.

          But in the end, it was the altitude that got him. He was lower than he should have been, and every pilot knows you don’t trust an altimeter to 70 feet absolute if you want to survive. That’s why you have your eyes. Even the regulations for an altimeter allow 30 feet of error from the factory, and you get more than that in a flying plane.

  • avatar

    Maybe the autonomous future is one of public auto insurance. Where the government sets the limit. While private insurance is sold as top up?

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Mark Stevenson,
    Did you watch the Great Race?

    And, are you doing an article on what is arguably the world’s finest race with V8 powered cars.

  • avatar

    So basically they’re providing full insurance. OK fine.

    As it is automakers can be held liable if one of their cars crashes due to design flaw, this is not really that different.

  • avatar

    Ya, they’ll accept liability, with their choice of arbitrator, severe caps on monetary amounts, and if there is a major fault in the system, the loving arms of reorganization bankruptcy to leave the customer holding the bag.

    No thanks, I see how corporations operate when they accept “liability.”

  • avatar

    A worthless comment that’s not worth the bytes it occupies.

    Yes, they will accept liability after it has been thoroughly contested in the courts with all avenues of appeal depleted. Anyone would be crazy to think they would just accept liability without trying to deflect the “Root cause” onto something (or someone) else.

    Nice PR Volvo.

  • avatar

    For litigation purpose, will the Volvo self-driving cars be videoing everything around the vehicle while in operation? That would be a little creepy. Will they auto-pixilate the faces of children (in my nanny state country, there are regulations about filming children in public) who might be running across the road?

    Will there be sport versions of self-driving cars? Seems counter-intuitive.

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