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Why Driverless Cars Are 'Probably' Legal

A Lexus SL 600 Integrated Safety driverless research vehicle

A Lexus SL 600 Integrated Safety driverless research vehicle // Julie Jacobson/AP

We've said it before and we'll say it again: a world with driverless cars isn't that far off. Europeans have been exploring driverless platoons called "road trains" as the future of car commuting. Computer scientists are thinking about how to reconfigure intersections and traffic lights to make driverless city driving more efficient. American cities may soon compete to builddriverless infrastructure.

So the biggest roadblock facing a driverless world isn't necessarily technology, but legality. The question of who would be liable in the event of an accident — the human "driver," the car's owner, the manufacturer — remains an open and deferred one. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that only three state legislatures have weighed in on the matter. Only one, Nevada, has given driverless cars the legal green light, and even then only for testing purposes.

Over at the blog Marginal Revolution, economist Tyler Cowen points to a recent research paper by Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at Stanford Law School, who has made the legality of driverless cars his bailiwick. In offering "the most comprehensive discussion to date of  whether so-called automated, autonomous, self-driving, or driverless vehicles can be  lawfully sold and used on public roads in the United States," Smith argues that driverless cars are "probably legal."

Read more at The Atlantic Cities

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