On Our Minds: Starship delivery robots will inevitably cause legal headaches for students


Matthew McKenna, Photographer

A lone starship robot waits for cars to pass before crossing Southwest Washington Way on Oregon State University’s Corvallis, Ore. campus on Feb. 23. With so many robots roaming around, it is likely one will be hit, and students can face trouble if they don’t follow the necessary steps if they hit one of the robots.

Riley LeCocq, Columnist

Editor’s Note: This column does not represent the opinion of The Daily Barometer. This column reflects the personal opinions of the writer.

Starship delivery robots that travel across Oregon State University’s Corvallis, Ore. campus often fall in the path of traffic and cause headaches for students. 

I explored the hypothetical situation of what would happen if someone were to hit one of these Starship robots. Would there be any charges, and would the fault fall on the robot, the company or the student? 

According to OSU’s Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of Police Shanon Anderson, if a robot were to be hit by a vehicle, the public safety department would need to be contacted to assess the degree of the incident. 

Generally speaking, when there is a reported collision that meets the legal threshold for reporting collisions to law enforcement in Oregon, the local law enforcement agency will respond, they will determine if there are injuries and render and summon aid if there are injuries,” Anderson said. “They will investigate the collision, looking into damage, law violations, and also look for factors that could have caused or prevented the collision.”

According to Anderson, the legal threshold for reporting an accident is either damage to the vehicle or other property over $2,500, if a vehicle must be towed, or there is an injury or death at the accident.  

During peak meal times, I’ve often faced issues with robots causing traffic buildups on campus as navigating around them in a car can be a very difficult thing to do when they’re crossing the street at random intervals. 

Anderson said accidents involving the robots are very case-by-case situations where the conditions of the accident would largely determine the following course of action.

“In less severe situations, and with the support of all parties involved, there can be the opportunity to have the incident stay in the student conduct system, but for more severe incidents the investigation would most likely be brought to the Benton County District Attorney for charges,” Anderson said. 

Public safety does have open communication with University Housing and Dining Services, especially in matters involving the robots, Anderson said. 

While the community has been relatively more helpful than harmful to the robots, Anderson said public safety has investigated at least one account of a hit and run on a Starship Robot. 

This one incident of a hit and run shows the kind of legal headache that can be caused by collisions with the robots. A hit and run is a criminal charge and can impact a student’s life substantially, not only through having a criminal charge but also financially to pay the repercussions. 

Noah Chamberlain, Associated Students of Oregon State University’s contracted attorney from Access the Law, said anyone involved in an accident similar to this should stop and make efforts to help. 

“The obligation would be on the driver to contact the organization to provide their information and fulfill their duties as a driver,” Chamberlain said.

According to Chamberlain, the duties of a driver include making an effort to exchange insurance and contact information to follow up just as a driver would in any other accident with a pedestrian, bicyclist or parked car. 

Even if the driver is not at fault for the accident they must still do their diligence or else they could be at risk of being cited for a hit and run, Chamberlain said.  

While it’s always important for drivers to be accountable when in an accident, the presence of the robots on-campus only creates more obstacles for cars to navigate around and potentially hit. If a student does happen to get into an accident with a Starship robot, the right path to take isn’t always clear.

This is where many students and I feel lost, at the confusion about what to do in this scenario since the robots are unmanned and do not report to their chargers until late that night. We the drivers are not at fault when driving responsibly, but we can still very easily enter a difficult situation if we do not follow the specific actions of a ‘diligent driver.’ 

In a scenario where a student hits a Starship robot, Chamberlain said he suggests students first speak with the legal advice office with ASOSU for free legal counsel about the conditions of the accident to decide how to proceed. 

While this seems like a lengthy hypothetical exploration, the reality and inevitability of one of our campus’s newest six-wheeled friends being hit is certain. Students should know how to react, respond and keep themselves safe. 


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