Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

What happens if I tinker with a regular car and put a nitrous oxide engine? The safety issues, which are real, could allow someone to plow into minivan on its way to Little League practice. It could explode. It could cause a massive fire. It could go way faster than the speed limit, bypass the limits of the breaks, and go against any number of laws.

So... does this mean I could sue Ford if someone modified a Ford car with a nitrous oxide booster? Could Ford sue the modifier for ruining the reputation of Ford when they crashed a modified Ford car? Will the state sue Ford for allowing such modifications, commonly used in street races? Can there be a civil suit against ford for anyone harmed by such modification?

To me, all those questions has a clear answer, and that answer is No. It also has a historical proof, as there hasn't been any lawsuits against Ford for failing to prevent such modifications. If the owner of a car modify their own car, then that person is fully responsible of any consequences of that action.

I would argue self-driving car software is different. If license terms permit modification, and a modified version is running in a car that causes damage, then there will be an argument as to whether the modifications caused the wreck, or whether it was the underlying software and thus the manufacturer who is responsible. Tesla, quite rationally, would not want to give users a permissive license, given this obvious liability problem. Even if, nod nod wink wink, they might approve of owners playing around with it.

I'm sure we all could come up with compelling arguments for both sides of this debate.

"It is the socially responsible thing for Tesla to make guarantees about their car software performance and prevent tampering in order to keep our streets safe."


"It's my product, I own the car; I have the right to tinker with all of it."

I observe that we constantly have this same debate: can we be responsible and take care of ourselves or do we need some ruling class to take care of us and micromanage our decisions for us? Or philosophically, can mankind be perfected through laws?

Half-measures and exceptions in the self-determination debate always strike me as lacking wisdom. Culturally, we should be strongly predisposed one way or the other.

How about using the same tactic many smartphone makers use:

"We're allowing you to unlock your bootloader, but if you do, you're voiding your warranty."

Similarly car makers could say as soon as the user unlocks the car's systems for modification, the company is no longer responsible for any accident that might happen.

It seems like a rather good compromise to me.

The car company is already not responsible for any accident that might happen. The operator of the vehicle is responsible for safe operation, period.

Yea, that's why nobody blamed Toyota for any crashes caused by faulty brakes and they didn't have to spend millions recalling all those cars at all.

No, car companies are sued when defective equipment causes an accident. They would have to take measures to ensure that consumer-modified equipment that causes an accident is not blamed on them.

Defective equipment is not the issue here.

Except for failures not caused by poor maintenance or poor/reckless driving. Like if your rear diff falls out because the bolts weren't done up at the factory, etc.

I'm sure user modification of functional systems would void the warranty. That is a separate issue from third-party liability, though, because the third-party victims are not party to the warranty.

>put a nitrous oxide engine


Petrolheads add nitrous cannisters to their engines to get a boost in power when it is pumped in.

Check out the Fast and Furious movies if you're interested.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact