Who is at Fault for a Self-Driving Car Accident?

Who Is To Blame in Self Driving Car Accidents?

With autonomous vehicles on the horizon, a new concern emerges: who is at fault in a self-driving car accident? Let’s take a look at the significant factors.

One of the most intriguing and potentially dangerous technologies on the horizon is self-driving vehicles. These autonomous vehicles are expected to save lives, but they are also likely to create a new legal problem: Who is at fault in a self-driving car accident?

The answer could be a blow to traditional notions of accountability in auto accidents, which currently assign blame based on the drivers’ actions.

In the United States, state legislatures have varying degrees of AI testing and deployment regulation. One reason could be that there is no nationwide standard for who is responsible for driverless car accidents.

Some states have laws that hold car manufacturers liable if their vehicles malfunction and cause accidents. Other states have no clear liability rules at all. Meaning that as more and more companies start testing self-driving cars in those areas, it could become increasingly difficult to figure out who is at fault after a self-driving car accident or whose insurance pays for damages.

Let us look at this from different perspectives.

The Manufacturer

Manufacturers may be liable for autonomous vehicle crashes, injuries, and property damage resulting from driverless cars depending on the circumstances of the accident and the autonomous vehicles owner manual.

In a typical car accident, the driver who breaks a traffic law or otherwise drives “negligently” is responsible for the accident. But with self-driving cars, it’s not so simple. Many of these autonomous vehicles will take over some or all of the responsibilities that human drivers have now, including recognizing road conditions, adjusting speed, and stopping when necessary. The driver might not even be in control of their self-driving car.

In that case, people involved in accidents may need to assign — or at least share — blame with the manufacturer and automotive engineers that created and programmed the self-driving cars’ computer software.

In some cases, the manufacturer may get sued if there are design flaws or manufacturing errors that lead to the car accident. It’s also possible, especially if there is a history of defects and crashes with that specific self-driving vehicle model. It ceases to be a matter of human error in such a situation but potentially one of corporate negligence.

Self-Driving Car Software Company

It is tempting to blame the software company. After all, if the self-driving car was driving itself, it must have been the software that made a mistake. And we are all used to blaming software companies for everything from security breaches to privacy violations to workplace politics.

However, trying to blame an accident with a driverless car will also be complicated because often, several parties may be at fault.

At least some of the responsibility for this accident may also belong to the people who decided to allow self-driving vehicles to drive themselves. They decided what risks were acceptable and what weren’t, and their decision caused this collision.

And while there’s no denying that the underlying software design may have been flawed or poorly written, the vehicle manufacturer may also have designed or built a faulty vehicle.

Should the software company that makes the fully autonomous vehicles operating systems be blamed when something goes wrong?

Some say yes. When a person gets hurt, it’s always the fault of whoever was driving- so why not blame the software company when their software is driving?

Others say no. The fault in this situation lies with whoever or whatever caused the car accident, not with whoever might have prevented it.

However, in practice, if a self-driving car has an accident, there will be plenty of finger-pointing on both sides.

Ultimately, whether the software was at fault for an accident or not will depend on the nature of the vehicle and its design and how well its computer system was written by the company that designed it.

The Individual Behind the Wheel

In 2015, Joshua Brown died after his Tesla Model S collided with an 18-wheeler on a Florida highway. While Brown was in the driver’s seat, he had enabled autopilot mode and was listening to the radio at the time of the car accident. The National Transportation Safety Board report stated that Tesla lacked proper safeguards against driver misuse of autopilot mode.

The NTSB concluded that “although automated vehicle control systems can reduce crashes involving high-risk driving behaviors, they cannot overcome the poor judgment of a human driver.”

In an autonomous vehicle, a human is still required to remain alert to assume liability for the actions of the self-driving vehicle. Human operators are also held responsible for taking over control of the car in case of vehicle malfunction. 

The liability, therefore, depends on whether or not the car was under manual control when it crashed into another vehicle or object.

The at-fault driver inside the car could also be liable for “contributory negligence” if they are distracted, sleeping, or otherwise not paying attention to the road. Under this theory, the driver is fully responsible for the safe operation of the driverless vehicle.

Regulatory Body

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulates vehicle safety in the U.S. The agency can be held liable for any car accident caused by a malfunctioning autonomous vehicle because it has been entrusted by the citizens to provide them with safe vehicles and programs.

Suggesting a broader lesson: we always need to think about who’s at fault when self-driving technology is involved in a car accident. An autonomous vehicle did something that no human driver could have done, but so did the people who decided that autonomous cars should be allowed on public roads in the first place.

Bottom Line

As self-driving cars proliferate more on our roadways, there will undoubtedly be instances of car accidents and crashes. How will such incidents be handled when the police arrive on the scene? It will undoubtedly become more complicated when insurance companies start negotiating settlements with families of victims whose cars have been half-blamed for causing deaths, and other parties like manufacturers might want to avoid liability.

You can decide for yourself; this is just one of many scenarios that could play out if we see an uptick in the number of self-driving cars on our roads in the future.

Let Us Help

Let’s face it, being in a car accident is no picnic; it is an expensive and stressful experience. If you were in a self-driving accident, the last thing you would want to worry about is legal matters. Let us take care of the legal aspects so you can focus on getting over your severe injury and moving forward with your life.

Erney Law is a personal injury law firm specializing in helping those affected by a car accident. We offer the best referral network in Ohio, and we can take cases nationwide. Our family-owned business focuses on giving our clients the personalized attention they need to ensure everyone’s needs are met.

With years of experience handling car accident cases, we can help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us for more information.