Liability in the Age of Semi-Autonomous Cars

Is the driver or car maker at-fault when a semi-autonomous car causes an accident?

Self-driving vehicles are widely regarded as the automobile of the future. Major companies like Google, Tesla, Uber, Lyft, and General Motors, among others, are competing to develop the first completely autonomous vehicle available for consumer use. As the race heats up, automakers are testing first step semi-autonomous vehicles on public roadways across the nation. These vehicles can operate in autonomous mode, but have a human driver in the seat ready to take control as needed. While semi-autonomous vehicles are widely regarded as safe, several high profile incidents have led to questions as to liability when an AV accident does occur.

Fatal AV Accidents Cause Concern

Last year, a Tesla vehicle in self-driving mode was involved in its first fatal car accident in the U.S. The Tesla car did not use its automatic braking system to prevent an accident with a tractor trailer. Investigations revealed the vehicle failed to detect the tractor trailer that turned in front of it, but Tesla countered that the human driver was ultimately at-fault for failing to react.

Just recently, an Uber semi-autonomous vehicle was involved in a fatal car accident with a pedestrian. Neither the car or human driver reacted in time to prevent the vehicle from hitting a pedestrian wheeling a bike as she stepped into the road. The human driver was apparently looking down at the time of the crash.  Days later, a Tesla Model X vehicle crashed into a barrier, killing the driver. It is not clear whether the vehicle was in autonomous mode.

Is the Vehicle Manufacturer At-Fault?

As autonomous vehicles become more commonplace, it is inevitable that more accidents will occur. Liability issues will swirl, as already much uncertainty exists as to who holds the blame for accidents occurring in semi-autonomous mode. Tesla has announced that its company will not be liable if there is an accident in self-driving mode. The company has stated that in the event of an accident involving AV mode, the driver’s insurance remains liable.

Volvo, on the other hand, has stated that it will take full liability for any accidents involving its vehicles while in autonomous mode. The widely differing opinions of these two companies are indicative of the legal challenges to the come. Courts and insurance agencies everywhere will soon be confronted with the critical issue of who should bear the blame when an autonomous vehicle injures someone.  

If you have been injured in a car accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

Posted in: Automobile Accidents