WHERE there’s a crash, there’s a dollar — especially if it happens to involve a driverless car.

In a case that could set a legal precedent, a San Francisco motorcyclist is hoping to cash in – even though it was a very low speed, minimal damage and minor injury crash.

Photographer Oscar Wilhelm Nilsson is taking GM to court over a collision between his bike and a self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV.

The vehicle is part of GM’s self-driving Cruise Anywhere ride-sharing fleet that it hopes will soon be available to the public.

The question is: who was responsible?

The driver?  Well, he was just sitting there, not really driving.

Or was it the car’s software?

Or did lensman Nilsson not focus on the traffic and cause the prang himself?

The incident occurred in heavy traffic in San Francisco, when the self-driven Bolt began to change lanes, then changed its mind and nosed back into its original spot.  

Nilsson says the double move caused it, but the police report didn’t blame either party.

The Bolt EV was traveling at 19km/h, Nilsson at 27km/h at the point of impact. Nilsson was ‘lane-splitting’ a practice legal in California, of riding a motorbike between two lanes.

GM agreed the car had aborted a lane change, then started to ‘re-centre itself’ in the lane, which by then had been occupied by Mr Nilsson’s two-wheeler.

GM says he “glanced the side of the Cruise, wobbled and fell over.”

“Safety is our primary focus,” GM said. Of course.

‘The police report stated that the motorcyclist merged into our lane before it was safe to do so.’

Nilsson claims he suffered injuries to his neck and shoulder, forcing him to take time off work.

The court finding will take some time, but in events unrelated to the San Francisco case, independent experts say that a driver using the current autonomous technology needs to remain ready to take over control of the vehicle at any time.

“Some of the cars say they have autopilot; that does not mean that the driver can check out,” National Safety Council president, Debbie Hersman, said.

Tesla chief Elon Musk agrees.

“The responsibility remains with the driver,” he said.

Which is what Oscar hopes he’ll hear when the matter reaches court one day.

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Driverless crash: who's to blame?


Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.

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