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Volvo accepts full liability for its cars in autonomous mode

In a speech scheduled for Thursday night at the House of Sweden in Washington, D.C., President and Chief Executive of Volvo Cars Håkan Samuelsson will state that his company will "accept full liability whenever one if its cars is in autonomous mode," according to a Volvo Car Group communications document.

SEE ALSO: Here's how Auto Pilot will work in Volvo's self-driving cars

The statement is the first such proclamation from a carmaker and one that will likely open the door for others to make similar assertions. It should be made clear, however, that Volvo will only assume liability in an accident where the autonomous car is the one that messed up. In most cases, that will be up to the courts. However, autonomous cars will be even more capable of avoiding collisions caused by other vehicles, as they monitor a 360-degree view around themselves and can react more quickly than a human ever could.

Samuelsson will also urge federal lawmakers to act quickly to create clear guidelines for the "testing and certification of autonomous vehicles." Samuelsson worries that if lawmakers don't act swiftly to enact such regulations that the U.S. could lose its position as a leader in autonomous driving technology development.

“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,” he will say. “If we are to ensure a smooth transition to autonomous mobility then together we must create the necessary framework that will support this.”

Hopefully, Volvo's acceptance of responsibility of vehicles in autonomous mode (called "Auto Pilot") will do more than encourage other carmakers to make similar claims, it will take some weight off the shoulders of lawmakers and insurance companies alike.

I've long presumed that the move toward vehicle autonomy would not come directly from lawmakers' eagerness to make roads safer but rather from pressures from insurance companies keen to limit liability and costs. Think about it: If your car virtually cannot crash, keeping you and your vehicle out of harm's way, your insurance company would never have to shell out medical or auto body repair payments.

Knowing that even if should such an incident occur that an automaker would accept responsibility opens insurance companies to make the hard push on lawmakers to make open season on autonomous testing across the U.S.

Moreover, this should hopefully assuage any fears that consumers have about the reliability of autonomous vehicles. If a carmaker is willing to stake its own reputation and funds on the tech, there's a pretty big incentive for them to get it right.

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