Concerns are growing in Washington that self-driving car manufacturers could use forced arbitration clauses to limit their liability in collisions involving their cars. Ten senators have reached out to major automakers including Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Amazon and Uber to gauge their intentions of incorporating contractual agreements that would force drivers and passengers to agree to arbitration. Car manufacturers are not the only ones who may be seeking restrictions on liability; ride-sharing companies may also be seeking to get arbitration clauses into their contracts with consumers who use their services.
The Use of Mandatory Arbitration Clauses
Mandatory arbitration clauses are designed to prevent a dispute from reaching court. Instead, the conflict must be resolved in an arbitration proceeding between the parties. Arbitration involves a process where a neutral party reviews the evidence presented by the parties and determines the outcome of a dispute. Arbitration proceedings are often criticized for favoring big businesses, since the business party generally chooses the arbitrator. A forced arbitration contract with a self-driving car manufacturer would preclude an injured party from partaking in a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer or ride-share service.
Consumer Rights in Self-Driving Car Accidents
Senators and advocacy groups who are wary of mandatory arbitration clauses claim that they would allow manufacturers to strip consumers of their fundamental right to pursue legal remedies if an injury or death occurs in an accident. These types of agreements could also create fewer incentives for self-driving auto manufacturers to enhance vehicle safety. Nevertheless, legislation in Congress governing the testing and the production of self-driving cars does not explicitly ban the use of mandatory arbitration clauses.
Congress Seeks Answers from Self-Driving Automakers
Among the senators responsible for this initiative are Senators Blumenthal, Leahy, Coons, Markey, Gillibrand, Durban and Warren. The letter that was distributed to approximately 60 automakers requested specific information as to whether they intend to use arbitration provisions in their contracts. If so, the legislators requested that automakers pledge not to enforce such contracts with their customers. The manufacturers did not immediately respond.
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