I read in this Bloomberg article

Ten days later, a Mountain View motorcycle cop noticed traffic stacking up behind a Google car going 24 miles an hour in a busy 35 mph zone. He zoomed over and became the first officer to stop a robot car. He didn’t issue a ticket -- who would he give it to? -- but he warned the two engineers on board about creating a hazard.

Who gets the traffic ticket in a self-driving car? The car owner, the manufacturer, the people in the car at the time of the infraction, etc.?

I am most interested in United States, especially California and Massachusetts.

  • Whats up with you and California and Massachusetts law? Each question you ask ends with the same line... Mar 30, 2016 at 17:42
  • 1
    @KingsInnerSoul I live there. Mar 30, 2016 at 17:44
  • Just an interesting pattern :-) Mar 30, 2016 at 17:45
  • 3
    The OP's question is more interesting now with a self driving car having hit & killed a pedestrian: <usatoday.com/story/tech/2018/03/19/…>
    – CrossRoads
    Mar 20, 2018 at 12:53
  • 1
    No one, they never make a mistake . Mar 20, 2018 at 20:35

5 Answers 5


The NSW Road Transport Act 2013 defines:

"Driver" means any person driving a vehicle, and includes any person riding a vehicle.

"Drive" includes:

(a) be in control of the steering, movement or propulsion of a vehicle, and

(b) in relation to a trailer, draw or tow the trailer, and

(c) ride a vehicle.

As written, the ticket would be issued to the person "in control of the steering, movement or propulsion of a vehicle". I think the courts would take the line of least resistance and interpret this to mean the person who turned the vehicle on and selected its destination as they are in control of its movement or propulsion.

  • 1
    In addition you are responsible for the car after leaving it - otherwise how could anyone get a parking ticket? So it makes sense that you would also be responsible if you instruct your car to drive to school, pick up your kids, and take them back home, and something bad happens.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 21, 2015 at 20:19
  • 3
    @gnasher729 actually, the owner is responsible for parking tickets
    – Dale M
    Dec 21, 2015 at 22:33

I don't believe the law has yet contemplated self-driving vehicles. Nor am I aware of any leading legal precedence. This is pioneering technology right now.

My sense of how this will work out is that the registered owner of the vehicle will receive whatever penalties are attached with moving infractions of automated driverless vehicles.


As far as I can find, neither CA or MA have enacted laws regarding this yet. Florida, (and probably others) have, however.

From Florida:

Defines “autonomous vehicle” and “autonomous technology.” Declares legislative intent to encourage the safe development, testing and operation of motor vehicles with autonomous technology on public roads of the state and finds that the state does not prohibit or specifically regulate the testing or operation of autonomous technology in motor vehicles on public roads. Authorizes a person who possesses a valid driver's license to operate an autonomous vehicle, specifying that the person who causes the vehicle’s autonomous technology to engage is the operator. Authorizes the operation of autonomous vehicles by certain persons for testing purposes under certain conditions and requires an instrument of insurance, surety bond or self-insurance prior to the testing of a vehicle. Directs the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to prepare a report recommending additional legislative or regulatory action that may be required for the safe testing and operation of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology, to be submitted no later than Feb. 12, 2014.

Emphasis mine. So under this model, the person who put the car on "autopilot" is responsible for whatever the car does while on "autopilot."

That person gets the ticket.


  • 1
    I’m fairly certain this is the proposed or model standard contemplated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, too. That said, this answer doesn’t cover the eventual (presumed) level of vehicle automation, which is vehicle operation without an individual in the vehicle at all.
    – A.fm.
    Sep 14, 2019 at 16:56
  • @A.fm., true. I imagine that either the ticket would then go to whomever the car is registered to, or laws may require a person to be inside at all times, under pain of the vehicle being impounded. I have no sources for those, so I left it out.
    – GridAlien
    Oct 11, 2019 at 17:15

Why would you create a hazard by driving slightly below the maximum speed permitted by law under optimal conditions?

Anyway, the main reaon why the engineers are on board is exactly because one of them is legally the driver, i.e. controlling the vehicle. So he would get the ticket. But that of course requires that he has committed a traffic violation.

  • 2
    They were doing 24mp in a busy 35 mph zone. That means they were moving about one third slower than the other drivers might expect, although how much of a hazard that is would be more suited to Motor Vehicles SE.
    – HAEM
    Mar 20, 2018 at 12:12
  • Well, they're not braking abruptly or anything like that. They might be impeding traffic flow, but I can't see how they cause a hazard. Non-motor vehicles like bicycles would be going much slower. Also, the maximum speed of some motor vehicles might be slower. A maximum permitted speed is the maximum speed permitted under optimal circumstances. It's not a mandatory minimum speed. I have to admit, though, that I am not familiar with the road traffic laws of California or Massachusetts. Mar 20, 2018 at 17:05
  • 3
    Not all laws target hazards. "Impeding traffic flow unnecessarily" might well be enough to warrant a ticket, although 25 in a 35 is probably on the edge. 25 in a 60 would easily be obstruction. (In the UK at least, slow moving vehicles are supposed to pull over to allow others to pass. In Germany this actually happens.) Mar 20, 2018 at 20:35

There may be a different answer if and when we get totally autonomous vehicles and what sort of tech serves as the foundation for their ongoing development or updates.

For example, if the car was speeding due to a glitch in code (or if it performed the wrong action and caused an accident), it is likely the car developer or the AI developer could be liable. By that same token, if an OTA update was released that morning for the vehicle's software and the operator (the terminology used for the "driver" of driverless vehicles) failed to allow it to download and install, the burden would likely shift away from developers to the operator.

  • 1
    I don't think it's legally permissible for a glitch in code to mean some developer is personally on the hook for a million traffic tickets, many of them in jurisdictions he's never even visited.
    – D M
    Jun 27, 2019 at 22:02
  • 1
    I’m not suggesting personal liability. This would work the same way product liability works.
    – A.fm.
    Jun 27, 2019 at 22:28
  • 1
    Btw, I am actually thinking more along the lines of liability for injuries or death resulting from a collision. For traffic tickets, if it were widespread enough, I imagine there would be recalls (or OTA updates) and the potential for civil litigation / maybe a class action.
    – A.fm.
    Jun 27, 2019 at 22:32
  • 1
    OK, by "developer" you meant the company and not the person. And by "liable" you mean they can be sued, not that they can be directly ticketed? But then you aren't quite answering the question of who gets the ticket.
    – D M
    Jun 27, 2019 at 23:27
  • @DM - Fair points. Because I answered this over a year ago, I can't recall what exactly I was contemplating, but less than a year prior to posting the above answer, I had completed a significant research paper on the issue as I described it (meaning, the paper was re: a serious incident that, for example, resulted in death or injury and where suits would certainly follow). That said, I find part of the quote OP included nonsensical - "who would he give it to?" Assuming there was a violation resulting from the slower speed, the ticket would've been given to an individual in the car.
    – A.fm.
    Jun 30, 2019 at 3:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .