Self-Driving Vehicles, Accidents, And Liability: Who's Responsible?


Autonomous or self-driving vehicles have been seen by many as a big step towards making the roadways a little less crowded and accident-prone. But even the best self-driving vehicle still has to contend with the rather unpredictable nature of human-driven traffic, as shown by a self-piloted Google-branded car's recent run-in with a commercial van. This brings up plenty of questions about accidents involving self-driving vehicles and their human-driven counterparts.

Is It the Driver or the Manufacturer?

In an ordinary accident involving human drivers, the courts and insurance companies normally assign liability to the driver deemed most responsible for the accident occurring. There's usually a clear view of who's responsible for the accident and, in many cases, how much compensation is required to make the other party whole for the damages they've suffered.

With human drivers taken out of the picture, the liability inevitably shifts towards the makers of the self-driving vehicles. After all, the drivers are no longer in control of the vehicles they're in—the autonomous cars are controlled by complex software and hardware that observes and acts upon a broad range of variables, including the type and number of obstacles present. Given the amount of control and decision-making exercised by an autonomous vehicle, it only makes sense for the companies behind the software and hardware to accept liability for any incidents that result in human injuries.

Of course, that liability could fall back on the person within the self-driving vehicle if that person tampered with or altered the hardware or software to function outside of its expected parameters. Since many self-driving vehicles are expected to be connected to a wireless network in some form or fashion, this raises questions about how manufacturers can protect their vehicles and occupants from malicious network tampering by hackers.

Fully Autonomous Vehicles vs. Semi-Autonomous Vehicles

The distinction between fully autonomous vehicles and their semi-autonomous counterparts can also play a role in determining liability for accidents involving self-driving vehicles. Fully autonomous vehicles are completely controlled by computer software and hardware, completely doing away with the human element except when inputting directions, in most cases. As mentioned earlier, liability for any accident that occurs with another vehicle is likely to lie with the manufacturer of the autonomous vehicle.

Cars with semi-autonomous controls, such as the Tesla Model S, rely on the expectation of human involvement even when the car is maintaining safe speeds and distances on its own. In fact, one fatal accident involving this vehicle occurred because the driver did not override the autopilot system in time to avert a collision. With semi-autonomous vehicles, the humans behind the wheel are still expected to take prudent action to avoid a serious collision, which means they'll remain liable for any accidents that occur due to their negligence.

What Should You Do?

The question of liability when it comes to self-driving vehicles is an issue that still being fleshed out by lawmakers and judicial experts throughout the country. Until there's a special framework in place for assessing self-driving vehicle liability, the courts will likely rely on a combination of product liability and prior experience and precedent with traditional automotive accident cases. In fact, many automotive manufacturers involved in developing autonomous vehicle technology are already voluntarily accepting strict liability for any incidents that occur with their self-driving vehicles.

Given the current track record of self-driving vehicles, it's unlikely that you'll be involved in an accident involving one anytime soon. If you are involved in an accident with a self-driving vehicle, it's best to follow the same steps as you would for an accident involving human drivers. There may be some slight differences involved—for instance, a self-driving vehicle may not be able to turn over its insurance information, but the owner or occupant of the vehicle should have that information on hand. For more information and advice, contact a car accident lawyer in your area.


2 November 2016

Consulting with an Accident and Personal Injury Lawyer

Ten years ago, I was injured in a car wreck while commuting to work. When a driver rear-ended my car, I hurt my back. Unfortunately, I had to undergo a couple of weeks of physical therapy. Even after receiving physical therapy, my back never felt as good as it did prior to the wreck. Have you been injured in a car wreck recently? Consider talking with an experienced accident and personal injury lawyer. This type of attorney can help you decide whether filing a lawsuit is your best course of action to take. On this blog, I hope you will discover the benefits of speaking with an accident and personal injury attorney soon after getting injured in a car wreck. Enjoy!