GM is pushing forward with plans to produce a fleet of self-driving electric cars that are profitable, as well as sustainable. Can it be done? There’s a lot of uncertainty in the industry at the moment. And, one of the biggest areas of uncertainty facing the manufacturers of autonomous cars isn’t related to technology. It’s related to liability. Now, GM is being forced to find some answers in a California court room.
A motorcyclist attempting to lane-split in heavy traffic crashed while coming alongside the self driving Chevy Bolt, causing “neck and shoulder pain” that have “forced” the motorcyclist to take disability leave from work while undergoing “lengthy treatment” for his injuries.
To GM’s credit, the official DMV report seems to take the Bolt’s side. The Bolt, apparently operating in its autonomous mode in heavy traffic, stopped a driver-requested lane change from the center lane to the left lane because a vehicle ahead decelerated and the gap was deemed too small to safely navigate. While the Bolt was trying to re-center itself in its initial lane, the report says, the motorcyclist “wobbled and fell over,” while trying to lane split. The damage to the Bolt was reported as, “(a) long scuff on passenger side of the vehicle,” according to the same DMV report.
So- was the motorcyclist thrown off by the Bolt’s correction? Is it a cynical cash grab from someone eyeballing GM’s deep pockets? It’s hard to say, especially as it’s still unclear whether the Chevy Bolt in question was one of the company’s “third-generation” autonomous cars that were described recently by GM Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt as “the world’s first mass-producible car designed to operate without a driver.”
One thing that is certain: there will be lots of people in the industry who will be watching this case closely. And, make no mistake, if it sets a precedent against GM, it’s pretty likely that a big part of the much-promised autonomous future might not come to pass, after all.