October 14, 2015
Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson warned a Washington, D.C audience that the U.S. “risks losing its leading position” as a producer of self-driving vehicles unless it institutes a framework for regulating and testing them. Speaking before a seminar at the Embassy of Sweden, Samuelsson praised the U.S. for its progressiveness on self-driving vehicle technology but cautioned that the country is in danger of giving back its gains in this area unless a clear regulatory framework is adopted. In order to facilitate this process, Volvo Cars says it will “accept full liability” for accidents caused by design flaws in its self-driving vehicles. Given recent efforts by one major automaker to skirt regulatory standards, it is refreshing to see Volvo embracing them. Of course, the company isn’t taking this stance out of pure selflessness—rather, it is in Volvo’s best interest for American and European governments to install legal guidelines that govern the manufacture and distribution of self-driving vehicles. Volvo now joins Mercedes-Benz and Google as companies that have assumed legal liability for their self-driving vehicles on the record in order to quicken the pace of official legislation. In his speech, Samuelsson criticized the “patchwork of rules and regulations” in Europe that, in his estimation, has hindered development. Volvo is looking for clarity as to whom would be responsible for an accident involving a self-driving vehicle: the driver, the automaker or the company responsible for the defective or inoperative component. In the U.S., the rules legislating self-driving vehicles differ from state to state. Samuelsson says that a lack of a unified standard hampers the ability of automakers to develop self-driving vehicles that can be driven across state lines. “The absence of one set of rules means car makers cannot conduct credible tests to develop cars that meet all the different guidelines of all 50 U.S. states,” Samuelsson said. “If we are to ensure a smooth transition to autonomous mobility then together we must create the necessary framework that will support this.” With that said, Volvo is also realistic about the prospects of auto accidents caused by self-driving vehicles. In an interview with the BBC, Erik Coelingh, Volvo's chief technical officer, admitted to the dangers associated with this still developing technology. “Everybody is aware of the fact that driverless technology will never be perfect—one day there will be an accident,” Coelingh said.