Self-driving cars seem like the technology of the future. But, in many ways, the future is now. As vehicle technology becomes more advanced every year, more cars with self-driving features are on the roads. While it may be years before “driverless cars” are the norm, there’s an immediate need to determine liability for self-driving car accidents.
If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a self-driving car, it will help your case to proceed with a Virginia self-driving car accident attorney. The Law Firm of Carlton F. Bennett, P.L.L.C. can help. Contact us for a free consultation about your case.
What Is a Self-Driving Vehicle?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has designated six stages of autonomous vehicles based on how much or how little human involvement is needed.
- Stage Zero—No automation,
- Stage One—Driver assistance is needed,
- Stage Two—Partial automation,
- Stage Three—Conditional automation,
- Stage Four—High automation, and
- Stage Five—Full automation.
Even the highest level of driving automation available to consumers today requires the full engagement and undivided attention of drivers. But the day when the roads are full of cars driving themselves may be closer than ever.
According to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimate, there will be 3.5 million self-driving vehicles on U.S. roads by 2025 and 4.5 million by 2030. These vehicles would not be fully autonomous but operate autonomously under certain conditions.
With the number of self-driving vehicles on the road only set to increase, accidents involving self-driving or autonomous cars will also increase.
Problems with technology, software glitches, and negligent operators can lead to accidents. Determining the liability for self-driving car accidents is complex and will evolve as self-driving vehicles become more common on the roads.
Who Is Responsible for an Accident with a Self-Driving Car?
In today’s world, when a crash happens, it’s usually the fault of the two actual drivers. Liability falls on the shoulders of one of these drivers, or it may be shared between them. But liability may be harder to determine in a world where the crash involves a self-driving car.
Accidents involving self-driving vehicles raise many legal questions when it comes to liability, and the law around self-driving cars is still evolving. As technology becomes more advanced, states must tackle these legal issues head-on. Until then, existing laws must provide guidance for liability questions when they arise.
Manufacturers report multiple collisions involving autonomous vehicles, some of which resulted in fatalities. Manufacturers tend to settle any liability issues privately with the victims or their families. How courts and legislatures plan to handle liability issues in autonomous vehicle accidents remains to be seen. Depending on the circumstances, several parties may be liable.
The Human Driver
When a self-driving car is involved in an accident, it does not necessarily mean the accident was the vehicle’s fault. Negligence remains a potential factor. Even the best technology won’t protect people from negligence. When drivers fail to stay alert at the wheel or misuse the technology, they could be held responsible for accidents and injuries.
While marketed as self-driving, today’s self-driving vehicles still require an attentive driver engaged behind the wheel at all times. Most self-driving cars today require drivers to supervise the technology and step in when the software fails.
If the self-driving technology warns a driver that roadway conditions require the driver to take over the controls, the operator must respond appropriately. If the driver fails to pay attention and doesn’t act to prevent an accident, they might be held personally responsible.
The question remains the same as with any other accident. Did the operator act recklessly? Or was the accident unavoidable and therefore not entirely their fault?
The Automobile Manufacturer
As with typical accidents, sometimes things go wrong with the car itself. Failing brakes or other mechanical problems might have caused the crash, and there was nothing the driver could have done. In these cases, the injured party might seek compensation from the automaker or the manufacturer for the defective part that caused the accident.
The Software Technology Designer
Self-driving cars use all kinds of software and sensors. The software developers and manufacturers of the sensor systems could be liable if something goes wrong. Many self-driving cars use software designed and manufactured by companies separate from the vehicle’s manufacturer.
If the software for the autonomous features caused the accident, the designer or manufacturer of the equipment could be liable for damages. The sensor system scanning the road might glitch and cause the vehicle to collide with another car or barrier. In such cases, the software designer might be liable for the crash.
A Third Party
Several third parties could be liable for an accident. Negligent vehicle repairs can cause or contribute to accidents. Even if a vehicle does not have a defect, faulty mechanical work can make driving dangerous. If a negligent repair caused the accident, the independent repair shop or dealership could be liable.
When poor road construction caused or contributed to the accident, the fact that a self-driving car was involved could be irrelevant to your claim for compensation. An accident with a self-driving car might not come down to the fault of the self-driving car. The involvement of a self-driving car is only one factor to consider. A self-driving feature may be to blame, but another factor may also be to blame.
As with any other car accident, the key to establishing liability is to conduct a thorough investigation. For example, if another driver was speeding, ran a red light, or was driving recklessly, the driver of the self-driving car would not be at fault.
A knowledgeable lawyer can investigate the crash, determine who is liable, and help you pursue fair compensation through an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit.
Contact an Experienced Accident Attorney for Help
The Law Firm of Carlton F. Bennett can help you determine your rights if you or someone you know has sustained an injury or property damage in a self-driving car accident.
Our team will investigate your claims and determine liability. We will seek maximum compensation for your injuries if you’re eligible to pursue damages.
We have experience investigating autonomous vehicle accidents, determining liability, and negotiating with insurance providers to ensure our clients are compensated for their injuries.
Carlton F. Bennett has more than four decades of legal experience and has proven to be a reliable advocate for injured clients throughout the Hampton Roads region. If you need a skilled and compassionate attorney to give individualized, practical solutions, please reach out. Contact us for a free consultation about your case.