Tech, yes. Legal, ?
Each year our roads see more deaths than in many wars. 1969 in the US? 53,343 says Wikipedia. I.e. more than the entire Vietnam war. They are dropping though - 33561 in 2012.
I agree, not good. But our countries have complex legal frameworks to manage it.
"Normal" traffic deaths are insurance concerns, with mostly predetermined, capped, damages. Consumers are on the hook to pay the premiums. And there is even an accepted way to calculate third party liability and insurance coverage for it.
Special cases, such as drunken or reckless driving can result in fines and jail sentences for the drivers.
Design & manufacturing defects end up with the car manufacturers in the dock. Recalls can be extremely expensive and punitive damages huge. And it can go verrrrry wrong. For example, the Prius's accelerator issue - $1.2B for 37 deaths.
Musk, who is an extremely clever guy, is probably right that we are only a few decades away from safer driving from robots, in aggregate. Will we modify our legal framework to award the same type of damages for wrongful death due to faulty driving, but this time against a rich multinational? I pay about $1400CAD/year to cover my car, BC is costly. If Tesla is driving my car, does that mean they need to put aside money against the risk of my car getting into an accident due to their AI?
i.e. if the car I am driving swipes a little granny riding her bicycle into the ditch and kills her, I could be in big trouble, but I will likely not be paying out millions of dollars. There is a, costly but mandatory, economic mechanism for me to cover most of my remaining risk. If the 50x safer Tesla autopilot does it, what's Tesla's exposure? And where will that money come from? Maybe it should be my insurance, but does that mean politicians will leave the carmaker off the hook and cap damages, because its an AI driver issue rather than any other part of the car? Don't think so.
We do have precedents for this, btw. Air travel has caps on awards against airline companies and I think even aircraft manufacturer caused crashes have not resulted in ultra-massive payouts. The general model is - pay some damages, spend a lot of effort identifying the cause, fix the issue. It works well, air travel is very safe. But it is an optimistic carmaker that thinks they're automatically gonna hop onto that wagon from their current legal exposure.
I suspect maybe it'll start with less litigious locations than North America. Or with long-haul trucks in segregated lanes.