Self-Driving Car Crash Spotlights Tricky Legal Question

General Motors is in a race to be the first company to mass produce self-driving cars, but a recent crash with a San Francisco motorcyclist has illustrated the tricky challenge of assigning blame when an autonomous vehicle gets in an accident.

As self-driving cars take to the roads in increasing numbers, collisions with standard vehicles are inevitable, experts say, as are lawsuits.

San Francisco commercial photographer Oscar Nilsson sued GM on Monday, after a Dec. 7 collision with a Chevrolet Bolt that aborted a lane change while driving autonomously.

The crash highlights an important issue raised by autonomous technology: Self-driving vehicles may not behave like those driven by humans, and that may complicate investigations into who's at fault.

"That's going to continue to be a huge area where we're going to have problems," said John Simpson, spokesman for non-profit Consumer Watchdog, a frequent critic of speedy deployment of autonomous vehicles.

GM's subsidiary, Cruise, has since August been testing a self-driving car service in San Francisco with human back-up drivers behind the wheel, as required by the state.

Nilsson's lawsuit claims he was riding behind one of GM's autonomous Bolts on Oak Street, when the car, with its back-up driver, changed lanes to the left. When he rode forward, the Bolt suddenly veered back into his lane and knocked him to the ground, according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Police Department's report on the incident blamed Nilsson for passing a vehicle on the right when it wasn't safe. But Nilsson's lawyer Sergei Lemberg disputed that finding.

"I don't know what a police officer can tell, after the fact," Lemberg said Tuesday. "I don't know that it's fair to blame this act on the completely innocent person who's just driving down the road and gets hit."

The police report, said Lemberg, actually...

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