The future legal shenanigans that will shift liability for pedestrian fatalities involving self-driving Ubers

This week, a self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian in Arizona, the first pedestrian fatality involving an autonomous vehicle; in his analysis of the event, Charlie Stross notes that Arizona's laws treat corporations that kill people with considerably more forbearance than humans who do so, and proposes that in the near future, every self-driving car will be owned by a special-purpose corporation that insulates its owner from liability.

Stross then starts to spin scenarios — brain-meltingly interesting ones! — about how a future software-as-a-service, gig-economy, externalizing Uber business might run, with "independent" drivers paying for "gold" or "silver" collision-avoidance features; remote-driving their cars from a terminal in another city, having to click away dialog boxes from Uber that sometimes obscure their view of the road and any pedestrians who wander into it.

The manufacturer of the vehicle, who has a contract with the holding company for ongoing maintenance, disabled the enhanced pedestrian avoidance feature for which the driver was no longer paying.

The road the child was playing chicken on is a pedestrian route closed to private cars and goods traffic but open to public transport.

In this jurisdiction, private hire cars are classified as private vehicles, but licensed taxis are legally classified as public transport when (and only for the duration) they are collecting or delivering a passenger within the pedestrian area.

At the moment of the impact the taxi has no passenger, but has received a pickup request from a passenger inside the pedestrian zone (beyond the accident location) and is proceeding to that location on autopilot control.

The driver is not physically present in the vehicle at the time of the accident.

The driver is monitoring their vehicle remotely from their phone, using a dash cam and an app provided by the vehicle manufacturer but subject to an EULA that disclaims responsibility and commits the driver to binding arbitration administered by a private tribunal based in Pyongyang acting in accordance with the legal code of the Republic of South Sudan.

Test Case [Charlie Stross/Antipope]