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Who Is Responsible in A Crash with A Self-Driving Car?

Someday, cars beaming 5G signals at each other may take us to and from work, drop us right off at the doors of the grocery store before parking themselves, and provide automated taxi rides for non-owners, all while removing the danger of collisions and other traffic mishaps. However, this reality—promised by some to arrive by the end of this year—is likely far in the future.

Right now, autonomous vehicles are stuck with limited capabilities that only allow them to operate safely in certain situations. The interaction between drivers and semi-autonomous vehicles has also proven fraught with problems. Robots are bad at understanding how other humans drive, and the owners and monitors of self-driving cars often find it difficult to keep their focus on the road when something else is doing much of the work.

The full number of crashes caused by these vehicles is not known (only California requires companies to submit annual reports detailing all accidents involving their self-driving cars), but we have seen the potential for danger in stories of tragic collisions. For most companies, the question isn’t if their autonomous vehicle will cause an accident—it’s when it will happen.

“Self-Driving” Cars Can Be Deadly

In 2018, a self-driving Uber vehicle hit and killed a woman crossing the road with her bike after it failed to identify her as a pedestrian and therefore did not slow down. She was the first person to experience a fatal accident caused by a car set in autonomous mode, but not the last. Tesla’s autopilot has been implicated in a number of crashes, including 3 that happened between December of 2019 and January of 2020. All told, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating 13 accidents involving Tesla’s self-driving software. Though most of these cases are still open, the agency’s report regarding a fatal 2018 crash showed that Tesla’s autopilot mode contains serious oversights that contributed to the crash.

Though Uber briefly paused testing of its self-driving cars after the fatal accident in Arizona, it has since resumed the practice. Tesla continues to market its autopilot as a key differentiator, perhaps overstating its benefits. And from California to Minnesota, many other car companies are putting their own semi-autonomous vehicles on the road for testing, often without even informing consumers. Given the danger these cars may pose, we should, at the very least, have the right to know when they are in our neighborhoods. As it is, anyone involved in a crash right now may be caught by surprise.

Different Types of Liability in Self-Driving Car Crashes

Self-driving cars may not make the same mistakes distracted or tired human drivers do, but they are certainly not exempt from liability when an accident happens. Truthfully, determining the cause of a crash involving one of these vehicles can be difficult. Here are three ways liability may break.

The Driver/Operator of the Self-Driving Car

No consumer vehicles have self-driving capabilities strong enough to allow their operators to ignore the road altogether. In fact, current models are all but guaranteed to need help in complex situations. If a driver is distracted or otherwise negligent, they may hold some or all of the blame.

The Driver of a Non-Autonomous Vehicle

Data suggest self-driving cars may make decisions human drivers don’t expect. If someone else on the road isn’t paying enough attention when an autonomous vehicle executes an unexpected maneuver, they may hit the vehicle even though it was following all traffic rules.

The Manufacturer of a Self-Driving Car

Training an AI to drive requires an immense amount of data and complex programming. There are many places for something to go wrong—whether it’s a mistaken assumption by a programmer, a vehicle’s failure to spot and react to important cues in its surroundings, or behaviors that don’t work as well in real-world situations. If the car itself does not work as planned, there may be nothing its operator or another driver can do to prevent a crash.

High-Tech Support in High-Tech Cases

Laws regarding self-driving cars are still in flux, as are the vehicles themselves. If you’ve been involved in an accident with one, you need a legal team with technical knowledge and the ability to litigate difficult questions. Our team has both. The Gilbert Law Group® has been helping car accident victims for over 50 years, and with the help of our in-house engineering team, we can tackle technical problems and provide advanced solutions.

You can be assured a carmaker won’t easily accept liability if one of their autonomous vehicles is involved in a crash. Make sure you have a strong team to fight on your side if you’re looking to make a claim.

Call our self-driving car accident attorneys at (888) 711-5947 for a free consultation. We serve clients in Denver and across the U.S.

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