Who is Liable for an Accident Caused by an Autonomous Vehicle?
Self-driving cars were once a trope in science fiction movies and novels. However, fully autonomous vehicles may be much closer than you think.
Even though there are no fully autonomous vehicles readily available for consumer use today, modern technology has made advancements to allow for some autonomy in vehicles like Tesla and Uber’s self-driving cars.
These technologies raise questions about how liability is determined when an accident happens. Can manufacturers be held liable or are drivers still found to be at fault for crashes?
Levels of Autonomous Vehicles
Vehicle manufacturers have been using technology to automate vehicles more and more through the years with a focus on safety features like rear-view cameras and automatic brakes. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has designated six levels of autonomy as follows:
- Level 0 – There is no automation and the driver has full control of the vehicle
- Level 1 – There are some automatic functions but overall, the driver is responsible for full control of the vehicle
- Level 2 – There is partial automation for steering and/or acceleration, but the driver must always be alert to his or her surroundings.
- Level 3 – Conditional automation allows the driver to divert attention from his or her surroundings, but he or she must always be prepared to take control of the vehicle.
- Level 4 – Vehicles equipped with this technology expand on conditional automation and allow the driver to divert his or her attention from his or her surroundings under some conditions.
- Level 5 – These are fully automated vehicles, but these vehicles are not commercially available vehicles in the U.S. at this time.
How is Liability Determined?
There are a few things that factor into liability in an accident involving a vehicle with self-driving features.
According to the NHTSA, 94 percent of motor vehicle accidents are caused by human error. Because fully autonomous vehicles are not commercially available in the U.S. right now, the driver of the vehicle that caused your crash is likely going to be found at fault.
In one case of a self-driving Uber vehicle that hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, the facts of the case show that the pedestrian was crossing the road when he or she should not have. However, due to the features of the vehicle, the driver still had the responsibility to take the wheel when an accident could have been avoided.
Although human error may be the most common reason for accidents and people are generally held liable for accidents, there is a possibility for manufacturer malfunctions. This may be more likely to happen as more and more companies produce vehicles with self-driving technology that is marketed in a way that could pin more liability on the manufacturer instead of a driver.
The Uber accident in Arizona is also a good example of a manufacturer error, as the self-driving vehicle did not register the jaywalking pedestrian the way an attentive driver may have.
What Role Does Insurance Play?
Once liability for an accident is determined, it is easier to assess who is financially responsible for the damage caused.
In a situation where an accident is caused by human error, whether the person is behind the wheel of the self-driving vehicle or another type of non-autonomous vehicle, the insurance company that covers the person may be held liable for the victim’s damages.
If the vehicle malfunctions and causes an accident, the situation may get complicated. Your attorney would need to determine what malfunctioned and who manufactured it.
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