A 21st Century Problem: Who’s at Fault with Autonomous Vehicle Accidents?

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A 21st Century Problem: Who’s at Fault with Autonomous Vehicle Accidents?

With the rise of driverless vehicles, we are closer than ever to a reality that is increasingly automated. Removing the possibility of human error from driving could reduce the number of car accidents.

Recently, there have been several recent injuries and fatalities caused by autonomous vehicle accidents. These incidents have raised concerns over who is legally responsible for these kinds of accidents. If you live on Cape Cod and want to know how blame will be assigned in these events, check out this simple guide.

The Costs of Human Errors

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that human error is the biggest risk on the road. In 2015 alone, over 35,000 people lost their lives in the United States from car crashes. Another NHTSA survey found that human errors accounted for a full 94% of car crashes.

Human errors are responsible for the largest number of accidents while driving. The rest of the accidents recorded from environmental and mechanical issues.

While some accidents are no-one’s fault, an investigation of a car crash can reveal a driver’s true errors. The driver may have known there was ice on the roads and ignored it, or drove too fast for the area, resulting in legal consequences.

As such, self-driving cars are viewed as a potential solution to reduce the number of road deaths per year. However, automated technology is only as good as it’s coding and it’s sensors. This can lead to autonomous vehicle accidents where assigning blame is very difficult.

The First Autonomous Car Fatality

On March 18th, 2018, the first recorded death caused by autonomous vehicle happened in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. An unfortunate pedestrian named Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber vehicle out for a test drive. There is still contention over whether the car’s sensors didn’t react in time or whether the pedestrian failed to pay attention to an oncoming car.

This immediately led to Uber and several other companies suspending tests of driverless vehicles. Arizona’s governor also suspended Uber’s statewide operations. Several other companies also halted their own autonomous vehicle development.

Meanwhile, advocates called for a total moratorium on further testing. This event has raised questions about the long term future of self-driving cars and who is responsible for any accidents that occur.

Who Takes The Blame When a Computer Is Driving?

As is so often the case technology has evolved faster than the law, leading to a great deal of confusion about who is responsible. Regarding auto insurance companies, there is no distinction between a self-driving car and one that relies on a human to pilot it. Under the current laws, human drivers must assume control of autonomous vehicles. They also bear responsibility for any accidents.

Some states that allow companies to test and operate self-driving vehicles. However, they are required to have insurance coverage. The vehicles must also have backup drivers to ensure safe operation.

Any self-driving Uber car has commercial insurance. This will cover drivers in the event of injury and damage to property. This is true regardless of whether the cars are running on auto-pilot or not.

There are four main factors when it comes to determining responsibility in the event of autonomous vehicle accidents. These errors are human error and failure of government oversight. Vehicle malfunction and poor design and manufacturing also play significant roles.

Human Error

If you find yourself injured by an autonomous vehicle, you should go after the driver first. No matter how advanced the technology, it is useless if it cannot protect a pedestrian from injury or death. In this case, the human operator bears much of the responsibility.

Did the backup driver take every precaution to prevent the accident from happening in the first place? If the driver misuses the technology or fails to remain alert while operating the vehicle, they may be at fault for any damages.

Failure of Government Oversight

Before being cleared to operate on roadways in the United States, the technology must be approved. This is the responsibility of the appropriate government agency. If a test vehicle happens to cause injuries or death, legal responsibility may lie with that department.

Vehicle Malfunction

While this is statistically among the least likely causes of a car crash, the possibility of technology failing is genuine. Any car owners can testify to the fact that sometimes components break or are simply defective.

Drivers of autonomous vehicles may have operated properly and still suffered a mechanical failure. In this case, the liability falls to the manufacturer of the failed components.

Poor Manufacturing or Design

There have been a number of cases where a design fault has led to injury or death. Several vehicles have had issues with the center of gravity while resulted in the cars rolling over and crashing. If the autonomous vehicle has a design fault or was poorly manufactured, the manufacturer may be responsible for the accident.

The Laws and Insurance Companies Are Undergoing Rapid Changes

In the world of legal responsibility and insurance coverage, the driver assumes responsibility. Major car manufacturers like Volvo and Nissan want autonomous vehicles being commonplace by 2020. Once this occurs, there will need to be many changes made to the legal and insurance industries.

When cars become completely autonomous, the liability will shift to car manufacturers. Current models have different modes of operation that requires the driver to know how to operate the car in all circumstances. As cars become more and more complex, it will be harder for the driver to know exactly what mode was in use at the time of the accident.

Thus far, all autonomous vehicle accidents have been settled out of court. This means that the United States legal system has yet to grapple with this technology.

When dealing with unsettled legal issues, most companies will choose to offer a settlement. Otherwise, they risk setting a negative precedent that could affect them later.

Autonomous Vehicle Accidents Can Be Fixed with The Right Legal Help

If you or a loved one are injured by an autonomous vehicle or you suffer a crash while driving one yourself, make sure that you get legal help right away. For the help you need on Cape Cod, contact Goldberg & Weigand, LLP today!

(508) 203-6600

Get in touch with us today to get started with your FREE case review. We’re only a call, click, or short drive away.