Emerging Technology Meets Emerging Law: Understanding Driverless Car Accidents and Liability

Auto Accident / June 29, 2021

In a little more than a decade, autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles have gone from the stuff of science fiction to an everyday reality. Some of the largest technology and automotive companies across the world (i.e., Tesla, Google, Uber etc.) are busy testing fleets of self-driving cars and trucks. Some observers predict that in as little as 15-20 years, the majority of vehicles on US roads (and even planes in the sky) may be autonomous.

Yet this also raises a critical issue: What happens when these self-piloted vehicles crash and cause fatalities? How is liability determined?

Sadly, it’s a scenario we’ve already seen unfold.

Deaths, Injuries and Liability Issues Associated with Autonomous Vehicles

Drivers using Tesla’s “autopilot” feature have been responsible for several deaths, outlining the risks of taking your eyes off the road and handing the wheel to a still immature AI technology. Uber, too, was involved in a recent incident where a self-driving test car ran over a pedestrian and killed her. As driverless cars become far more prevalent on US roads, the number of auto accidents, injuries and deaths may grow exponentially.

This raises an interesting question: In situations where autonomous accidents are involved, how do we assign liability?

In the case of Tesla’s autopilot feature, both man and machine seem to be jointly responsible for the safe operation of the car. The human driver needs to know when to safely engage, and disengage, the autopilot feature.

In cases where a vehicle has full automation, however, the question of liability is more complex. Assuming the pedestrian or the other driver is not at fault, do we assign liability to the company that operates the autonomous vehicle? Or the company the built the vehicle? Or, if the code used to pilot the vehicle was developed externally, might that third-party company ultimately be responsible?

Ultimately, the issue of AI-liability is likely to be a complex web — and one of the most interesting emerging areas of law.

Finding the Right Personal Injury Law Partner

At Mansell Mansell Ayala + Villaneda we’ll be keeping a close eye on autonomous vehicles and their safety record. While today’s automotive and technology companies are aiming to make transportation more efficient, our mandate is to help protect victims of road-related negligence.

If you’ve been injured in a vehicle accident (autonomous other otherwise), please don’t wait to contact our law firm today for a free consultation.

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