New Jersey lawmakers have introduced legislation that would, if enacted, require owners of driverless cars to maintain liability insurance coverage.
If the legislation does become law, New Jersey could become the third state in the nation, after Nevada and Florida, to require that owners of autonomous vehicles maintain liability insurance coverage.
At present, liability coverage attaches to the driver of a car, and it remains an open question as to who would be held liable in the event that an autonomous car causes an accident.
State laws evolving
Since 2011, at least nine states — Nevada, Florida, California, Michigan, North Dakota, Hawaii, Washington, Tennessee and Utah — along with the District of Columbia, have enacted laws permitting some form of testing of autonomous vehicles. Additionally, governors in Arizona and Massachusetts issued executive orders on autonomous vehicles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Nevada, in 2013, and Florida, last year, enacted legislation that allowed for the general use of autonomous vehicles. Both now require owners and operators to maintain insurance coverage.
Most testing, however, is being done in California, where Google was the pioneer in the autonomous-vehicle industry. Uber, the ride-hailing service, is attempting to start autonomous vehicle service in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. The legality of that service, however, remains unresolved as regulators continue to consider whether driverless services should be permitted.
Uber, engaged in a clash with California regulators, said last month that it would end its autonomous-vehicle program in San Francisco and relocate the self-driving service to Arizona. Also last month, Uber asked the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to delay guidelines for driverless cars pending legislation in the state, according to sibling publication The Legal Intelligencer.
Jessica González, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, said 20 automakers have been granted permits to test autonomous vehicles, and must post $5 million in insurance or bond or self-insurance. At present, she said, regulations regarding insurance requirements for the general use of autonomous vehicles have not been written in the state.
Anticipation NJ will permit driverless vehicles
The New Jersey Assembly bill, A4504, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, and Assemblyman Arthur Barclay, D-Camden. The Senate bill, S2895, is sponsored by Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex. No hearings have been scheduled for the bills.
Lampitt said she introduced the legislation in anticipation that, at some point in the future, New Jersey will permit the general use of driverless vehicles. Gill did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Gov. Chris Christie's office generally does not comment on legislation until it reaches his desk.
New Jersey currently requires a minimum of $15,000 coverage per person and $30,000 per accident.
"It [the general use of autonomous vehicles] will happen eventually, but there are a lot of questions that have to be answered," Lampitt said. The central question, she said, is whether someone who is riding in an autonomous vehicle, who may own the vehicle but is not at the controls, should be held responsible in the event of an accident.
Legal landscape uncertain
Currently, she said, it appears that the manufacturer of the vehicle would be held liable, but the legal landscape is uncertain.
"We're looking to make sure that insurance is available if no one is behind the wheel," Lampitt said. "We're looking to who coverage should go back to, and creating a process for manufacturers to follow."
State and federal rulemaking on autonomous vehicles is expected to accelerate this year, as carmakers and others push for more consistency, as reported in sibling publication Legaltech News.
New Jersey lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require owners of driverless cars to maintain liability insurance coverage, instead of operators.
Michael Booth is the Trenton Bureau Chief for the New Jersey Law Journal. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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