Car accidents involving self-driving cars are all over the news. Earlier this year, a Tesla Model S was in "autopilot" when it crashed into and killed a pedestrian on a Florida roadway. The vehicle not only failed to stop at a stop sign, it also plowed into a parked car at the same three-way stop intersection. While this particular accident is still under investigation, there have been other devastating problems with the autonomous driving features on newer cars.
The idea of self-driving cars sounds exciting. After all, vehicles don't daydream, and they certainly don't have to control the antics of children in the backseat. However, car accidents involving self-driving cars call into question - who is actually to blame? What obligations do the "drivers" of these cars owe to drivers and passengers of other vehicles sharing the road? Is the "driver" of an autonomous vehicle liable for the injuries caused to others in an accident? Who really bears the responsibility when technology takes over?
Here's what you need to know about liability when a loved one is seriously injured, or even killed, by a self-driving car.
Man versus machine
Although self-driving cars are a work-in-progress, some manufacturers are already rolling out pilot programs for models that will be used on the open road. Currently the vehicles involved in these programs are only semi-autonomous and still require someone behind the wheel who is prepared to intervene as necessary. Most models have sensors on the steering wheel for the purpose of keeping the driver engaged and alert.
Whose fault is it anyway?
It's clear that the self-driving car itself cannot be held liable for an accident, but who is expected to compensate the injured for their losses? It is up to the manufacturer to make a car that performs the safest action in a variety of scenarios, but it is also up to the driver to intervene if the vehicle's program chooses an unsafe action.
At this point, there are very few semi-autonomous cars on the road. Fortunately, only a handful of those have been involved in accidents. For this reason, most courts have not had to deal with the issue of liability yet. Some manufacturers, however, seem to be willing to accept responsibility readily to demonstrate just how much they believe in the safety of their vehicles.
If you were seriously injured in a car accident, even if it involved a self-driving car, call VanNess & VanNess, P.A. to discuss the details of your situation. We stand ready to assist you and will answer these and many other questions.