Self-driving cars and trucks have become an increasingly familiar sight on the roads in and around Phoenix. This exciting technology holds the potential to reduce a large number of auto accidents which are caused by human error. But it does pose an important legal question: Who is at fault for an accident caused by a self-driving vehicle? For the most part, existing statutes and case law do not adequately answer this novel question. There are several possibilities.
Products Liability: Manufacturers of consumer goods have an obligation to make their products reasonably safe for the consumers who will use them. Because of this, auto manufacturers can be liable for accidents caused by defective parts, equipment or systems. This is why some auto manufacturers issue recalls of faulty equipment. In such a case, the company’s lawyers and accountants have determined that it will be less expensive to recall the product than to pay the likely costs of lawsuits.
In the case of a self-driving car or truck, the vehicle will consist of many more consumer products and systems than those vehicles which are piloted by a human driver. An autonomous driving program which malfunctions may incur liability to the software manufacturer which developed the system, the hardware manufacturer which designed its parts, the systems engineer who integrated both systems together, or the manufacturer of the entire vehicle. Which manufacturer is liable will depend upon the exact nature of the malfunction which occurred. In many cases, more than one manufacturer can be liable for an accident caused by an autonomous vehicle.
The Other Driver: Autonomous driving technologies have impressive success rates. They are programmed with an enormous amount of data to predict an impressive variety of driving scenarios. They also eliminate human error in driving tasks (if not in the design process). For these reasons, it is highly likely that many accidents involving self-driving vehicles will be the fault of the other driver involved in the accident, and not the driver or manufacturer of the autonomous vehicle. In this situation, traditional rules of liability will apply. The responsible driver will be legally obligated to compensate the victim for all property damage, medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages which occur as the result of his or her negligence.
Just How Safe Are Self-Driving Vehicles?
Many drivers, government regulators, and politicians are adverse to a driving technology which completely eliminates the need for a licensed driver to be in the vehicle. Yet time and again, research demonstrates that self-driving vehicles are safer than vehicles driven by humans. C-Net reports that 94 percent of accidents caused by human error could be eliminated by the use of autonomous vehicle technology. “Human error” can constitute a wide variety of bad driving behavior. Drunk driving, drowsy driving, distracted driving and road rage account for thousands of traffic deaths every year across the United States – deaths which could be prevented by autonomous driving technologies which are impervious to such disruptions.
For some helpful tips on driving your non-automated car safer, read this article.
Aggressive Defense of Your Personal Injury Claim Arising From an Auto Accident
If you or a loved one has been involved in an auto accident – whether involving an autonomous vehicle or not – it is important to seek advice from an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Schedule your free consultation with the Fite Law Group by calling (602) 368-1869, or sending an email to [email protected]. Our friendly staff and experienced attorneys will conduct a thorough review of your claim in order to best protect your legal interests.