Self-Driving Cars: Potential Liability IssuesApril 12, 2017
Self-driving cars are expected to hit U.S. roadways in large numbers by 2020. Given that human error causes more than 9 in every 10 auto accidents,1 some expect self-driving cars to prevent auto wrecks and save lives.
In all likelihood, however, self-driving cars will not completely eliminate traffic accidents. This seems particularly true in light of the fact that many self-driving vehicles still require some level of human/driver oversight (and people can – and do – make mistakes).
So, what happens when self-driving vehicles are involved in crashes?Who’s liable? What are victims’ options for financial recovery?
Self-Driving Car Accidents & Liability: Factors to Consider
Liability for self-driving car accidents is complex because there are a number of factors to consider. Just some of these include:
- The degree to which a human or driver is controlling the vehicle
- Whether human error is, in fact, a contributing factor to a crash
- Whether some equipment defect, software malfunction or other vehicle-related failure contributed to a wreck.
In other words, liability for accidents involving self-driving vehicles could include elements of motorist (or simple) negligence, as well as more complicated product liability claims.
These issues can become far more complicated when considering factors like:
- Multiple vehicles being involved in a single accident – If some vehicles are self-driving cars and others are human-driven cars, liability determinations can be even more challenging to pin down.
- Road and weather conditions, which have already been factors in some of the self-driving vehicle crashes reported to date – For instance, in 2016, a Tesla Model S car that was on autopilot was involved in a fatal crash when the vehicle’s software failed to detect a truck as a result of the bright weather conditions.
Will Regulations Solve the Liability Issue?
Federal regulators are already pushing to pass regulations that would govern safe driving practices for self-driving vehicles. To date, however, the liability issues are still in question.
While some expect states to pass their own individual regulations, this presents another concern – that a piecemeal approach could cause even more confusion, loopholes or uncertainty regarding liability for self-driving car crashes.
Some Automakers Are Ready to Accept Liability for Self-Driving Car Crashes
Interestingly, some major automakers that are currently developing and testing self-driving vehicles have already come forward to announce that they actually invite the idea of accepting full liability for crashes involving their self-driving vehicles.
Volvo and Mercedes-Benz (and even non-automaker Google) have all pledged to accept strict liability for these types of crashes.
On the surface, this seems risky and counterintuitive. After all, why would carmakers automatically accept liability for the accidents involving self-driving vehicles? And why would they be OK with assuming more liability if their vehicles are reportedly providing greater safety benefits to the driving public?
A few explanations have been offered, including that these carmakers:
- Recognize the public concern regarding self-driving vehicles and want to dissipate these concerns by standing behind the safety and benefits of these vehicles
- Would inevitably be considered liable for these crashes so they’re getting out in front of the issue now
- Are confident that there will not be very many self-driving car accidents because these vehicles reportedly come with a number of safety redundancies (in case there’s a system or software failure)
- Would be able to pass off the extra costs of this liability in the form of higher prices on self-driving vehicles (and higher prices may not necessarily turn off consumers because they will likely be willing to pay more for safer vehicles).
Hurt in an Auto Wreck? Contact a Houston Car Accident Lawyer at the Amaro Law Firm
If you or a loved one has been hurt in any type of auto crash, find out more about your options for financial recovery and justice by contacting a Houston car accident lawyer at the Amaro Law Firm.
Call (877) 892-2797 or email us. Our attorneys are ready to meet with you during a free initial consultation and provide you with the information you need to move forward with a potential claim.
We get hired because we get results. The Amaro Law Firm is rated 5 stars on Google and Facebook.
1: According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)