Liability Issues Create Potholes on the Road to Driverless Cars

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Arizona lawmakers last year were debating a law laying out guidelines for an up-and-coming technology: self-driving vehicles. Then they got to a question they couldn't steer around: Who is to blame if a driverless car gets in a wreck?

When there is no driver, the answer turns complicated, and the possible targets of lawsuits expand. Is it the company that designed the technology? The car's owner, or a passenger who should have assumed control? The auto maker that built the car?

Concerns from the last group helped keep a bill introduced last year by Arizona State Rep. Jeff Dial from leaving committee. "Their concern is that somebody comes along and modifies their vehicles, and they could be held liable if that technology doesn't work," said Mr. Dial, a Republican.

The skirmishing over laws to allow self-driving cars is a lesson in the difficulties that arise when new technologies run into the dollars-and-cents concerns of corporations.