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Common Causes of Driverless Car Crashes

Driverless vehicles, hailed as the future of transportation and roadway safety, have been involved in several motor vehicle accidents over the years. In fact, reports indicate that, since 2021, there have been at least:

  • 130 accidents involving fully autonomous vehicles
  • 400 wrecks involving vehicles that have partially automated driver-assist systems

While all sorts of factors have contributed to these crashes, nearly all of them share one thing in common — some form of human error.

Here’s a closer look at how human mistakes contribute to self-driving car accidents, along with other factors that can play a role in these wrecks.

How Human Error Causes Self-Driving Car Accidents

Assistive technologies and fully automated systems focus on limiting a human’s role in the task of driving, but these innovations still require some interaction by or with humans. Specifically:

  • Assistive technologies require driver oversight. While helpful, these systems are not designed to operate 100% autonomously. Nor are they programmed to assume full control of a vehicle. They simply provide warnings, slight course corrections, or braking assistance when certain issues arise, like lane departures or speeding.
  • Fully automated systems need to be able to distinguish pedestrians. Beyond that, these systems must be able to identify children, folks in walkers or wheelchairs, and others. This can be a highly complex task, particularly when other objects enter the picture (like animals, trees, traffic cones, etc.).

In light of those facts, some of the most common ways in which human errors contribute to driverless vehicle crashes include:

  • Distraction: People sitting in the driver’s seat often rely too heavily on the technology in partially or fully autonomous vehicles. In fact, some reports indicate people have been watching or recording videos (or playing games on their phones), instead of paying attention to their vehicle and responding when human intervention is actually needed, at the time of crashes.
  • Misjudgments: Some driverless car accidents have been caused by human drivers who miscalculate what an autonomous vehicle will do next. For instance, many of these wrecks are rear-end crashes because human drivers following self-driving vehicles assume the autonomous vehicle will proceed through intersections at certain periods when, in fact, they won’t.
  • Reckless driving: In some cases, autonomous vehicle accidents are the product of human motorists simply being careless, aggressive, or irresponsible behind the wheel. For example, some of these crashes have occurred when human drivers have run red lights and collided with driverless cars.

Other Causes of Self-Driving Car Crashes

Along with human errors, other causes of autonomous vehicle accidents can include (and are not limited to):

  • Software flaws or glitches: These problems can impact a vehicle’s perception, monitoring, and/or decision-making systems. Issues with any of those critical areas could result in self-driving vehicles failing to detect real risks or sounding off and erroneously reacting to false alarms. Though testing is meant to find and eliminate software glitches, they can still sneak through and wreak havoc.
  • Mechanical problems: In some cases, standard vehicle equipment and systems can fail and contribute to self-driving car accidents. Tire blowouts, engine failures, fuel line explosions, and other mechanical failures can all result in autonomous vehicle crashes even if the software is operating flawlessly.
  • Poor road conditions: Debris on the roads, faded markings on the road, and missing traffic signs are just a few real-world factors that could seriously interrupt how self-driving tech works. With even more adverse conditions, like icy roads, potholes, or crashes, it’s difficult to say how self-driving technology would respond and if the response would be safe and appropriate.
  • Adverse or dangerous weather conditions: Heavy rain, fog, hail, and other severe weather can interfere with how the technology and systems on self-driving vehicles work. For example, fog alone could cloud a vehicle’s cameras, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the autonomous vehicle’s systems to detect key cues in the environment.

How to Determine the Causes of Self-Driving Car Accidents

Like any traffic collision, self-driving car accidents require investigations and careful analysis of the available evidence to determine:

  • The underlying causes
  • The party or parties that may be liable for damages

No matter how you may have been victimized in a car crash or a driverless vehicle accident, the investigation and recovery process can be easier to navigate with an experienced lawyer.