Autonomous Driving Car Accidents: Who Is Liable?

We’re entering a new age of automation that will affect all walks of life. The way we work, the way we manufacture, and the way we drive will all be replaced quickly by radically new paradigms. What does that mean for liability on the road? Sooner or later, it will likely be illegal to manually drive a vehicle on city roads. That day isn’t even close, but it’s coming. Sadly, regulations have yet to catch up to the technological reality of where driverless vehicles are today.

Autonomous Driving Cars

Tesla was one of the first automakers to release software for its line of luxury vehicles that even closely resembles a fully driverless capability, and it only works on certain stretches of highway. Although there have been accidents already (of course), the driver was always liable. Although autopilot was enabled for these vehicles at the time of the accidents, the software comes with the stipulation that the driver be ready to take over at any time. In one case, the driver was actually attempting to test the limits of the software when the crash occurred. Since then, Tesla has updated its vehicles to automatically turn autopilot features off when the driver removes his or her hands from the steering wheel.

Who’s Liable?

Because driverless vehicles are allowed on our roadways but don’t have strict regulations governing liability, courts will have to deal with each situation on a case by case basis. If you were involved in an accident with a driverless vehicle, then you may be entitled to compensation. Speak with a car accident law firm to determine whether or not you have a case. Basic common-sense regulations govern these newly evolving laws. Negligence will likely determine whether or not someone will be blamed. If the manufacturer didn’t address an obvious technical flaw, then the manufacturer will be blamed. If the driver played around the vehicle’s electronics, then the driver will likely be blamed for any resulting malfunction, etc.

We can look across the Atlantic in order to have a better idea of where our own driverless vehicle legislation might end up. The UK parliament drafted The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill in order to determine liability for driverless accidents.

Under this legislation, insurance companies will be liable for general death and injury that occurs during driverless operations–so long as the vehicle is insured. If the human driver engaged driverless functionality when it was dangerous to do so, the human driver would remain liable. If the vehicle’s operating system was tampered with, then the insurance company would be freed from liability. If the driver failed to install required updates in a timely fashion, the driver would be liable. Last but not least, a mechanic might be held liable for an autonomous driving car accident if a repair failed or resulted in a defect.

These laws are just a framework, and they will pave the way to a world we’ll see soon enough.