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 the 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 counter-intuitive. 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.
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1: According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)