In highly automated vehicles (HAVs), driving responsibility is split between a human occupant and a robotic car system. So when HAVs crash, who is at fault? The question is likely to trigger dispute between HAV customers and HAV manufacturers. In a recent op-ed for leading legal website Law360, the Policy Institute’s Gordon Anderson and Austin Brown argue that without intervention from policymakers, arbitration could become the default mechanism for resolving such disputes. The result, they warn, would be a legal playing field steeply tilted towards manufacturers.
In the op-ed, “Automated Vehicle Users Should Not Be Forced To Arbitrate,” Gordon and Austin explained that arbitration agreements are notorious for favoring business interests. Arbitration is a private, quicker alternative to litigation where conflicting parties exhibit their testimony to an arbitrator, who may make a decision and award the successful party. Clauses mandating arbitration for dispute resolution are already being introduced into consumer-purchase agreements for early generations of HAVs—often without consumer awareness. If this practice continues, consumers may be disproportionately held liable for accidents.
Gordon and Austin also pointed out that to improve public opinion and reliability of HAVs, transparency and trust in the vehicles and manufacturers are essential. “Closed-door arbitration,” they wrote, “will also deprive society of useful information about how and when HAVs tend to crash.” The op-ed concluded with a call for policymakers to implement rules and regulations limiting the inclusion of forced-arbitration clauses in HAV contracts.
Austin, executive director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and Economy, co-authored the blog with Gordon, 2019 graduate of the UC Davis School of Law, a current judicial clerk, and former legal fellow at the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and Economy. Law360 is a trusted news source for legal experts, business leaders, and government officials, reaching over one million professionals around the world daily.