The Volokh Conspiracy

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Profs. Jeffrey Rachlinski & Andrew Wistrich Guest-Blogging on "Judging Autonomous Vehicles"


I'm delighted to report that we will have two sets of guest-posts this week: In addition to Prof. Robert Leider's posts on criminal law, Profs. Jeffrey Rachlinski & Andrew Wistrich (Cornell) will be guest-blogging this week (starting tomorrow) on their new article, Judging Autonomous Vehicles:

The introduction of any new technology challenges judges to determine how it into existing liability schemes. If judges choose poorly, they can unleash novel injuries on society without redress or stifle progress by overburdening a technological breakthrough.

The emergence of self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles will present an enormous challenge of this sort to judges, as this technology will alter the foundation of the largest source of civil liability in the United States. Although regulatory agencies will determine when and how autonomous cars may be placed into service, judges will likely play a central role in defining the standards for liability for them.

How will judges treat this new technology? People commonly exhibit biases against innovations such as a naturalness bias, in which people disfavor injuries arising from artificial sources. In this paper we present data from 933 trial judges showing that judges exhibit bias against self-driving vehicles. They both assigned more liability to a self-driving vehicle than they would to a human-driven vehicle and treated injuries caused by a self-driving vehicle as more serious than injuries caused by a human-driven vehicle.