Self-driving cars are widely considered to be the next great innovation in automotive safety. The idea is that autonomous cars will prevent crashes and injuries by eliminating the No. 1 cause of car accidents — human error. But who’s to blame when a driverless car is involved in an accident? So far, the answer’s not clear.
Right now, there are no laws regarding liability that specifically address autonomous vehicles. That’s a problem because the U.S. has already recorded fatal self-driving car accidents in several states.
Questions of Fault In Driverless Car Crashes
In a conventional South Carolina car accident, liability usually falls upon the at-fault driver. That person’s insurance company would therefore be responsible for paying compensation to the accident victim for any injuries. But with driverless cars, questions of fault get complex.
At this time, no self-driving vehicles are fully automated. Instead, a backup driver sits inside and is able to take over if a crash is about to happen. The eventual goal is for the self-driving car to be fully in control, but that’s still years away, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
When someone is hurt in a crash caused by a self-driving car, determining fault depends on the cause of the collision.
Human error is responsible for 94 percent of car accidents. Was the backup driver paying attention when the crash occurred? Investigations into a recent self-driving car accident in Arizona found that the driver did not have his eyes on the road in the moments before the collision. If the operator of the self-driving car was not being careful, he or she could be held liable.
Just like today’s cars, autonomous vehicles can still experience malfunctions that could cause accidents. If the backup driver was monitoring the vehicle carefully and the car breaks down for some reason (e.g., brake failure), it’s possible that the manufacturer of the autonomous car may be held responsible for the crash.
Autonomous cars have complex computer software, sensors, cameras and other hardware that can control all aspects of the vehicle’s operation. Software bugs or other technological flaws that cause accidents could allow injured victims to sue the designers of the faulty technology.
Other Potentially Liable Parties
Keep in mind that there are other possible parties to blame in crashes involving self-driving cars. In accidents involving multiple vehicles, liability may need to be split among multiple drivers as well as the autonomous car’s driver and/or manufacturer.
Fault could also rest on a government entity if a failure to maintain the road or traffic signage contributed to the accident. For that reason, it will be critical to consult with a personal injury attorney who knows how to investigate complex car accident cases.
Demanding Compensation for Car Accident Victims
Stewart Law Offices represents car accidents victims in South Carolina and North Carolina. Our personal injury attorneys are paying close attention to the development of self-driving cars and how that will impact our clients in the future.
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