When a driver faces a driverless car after a car accident, it is normal for them to feel a certain amount of uncertainty as far as liability goes. However, as vehicle technology increasingly changes, the faster we are approaching the day when self-driving cars will become the norm.
Companies working on driverless technology design vehicles with the most advanced safety features to prevent accidents. Unfortunately, these advanced safety features don’t mean that accidents won’t happen. Uber, Google, Tesla, and other autonomous vehicle manufacturers have all had some accidents, and a few were fatal.
According to the National Law Review, self-driving cars might have a higher rate of accidents than human-driven cars, but the injuries caused by these collisions are less severe. For example, statistics show that 9.1 self-driving car accidents occur for every million miles driven compared to the rate for “regular” motor vehicles at 4.1 crashes per million miles driven, a rate of less than half.
Many people ask: Who is liable when a crash involves a driverless car, and what is the best way to approach such an accident.
Is Liability Manufacturer or Personal?
After several self-driving car accidents, a lot of thought has gone into the liability for the accident. The Insurance Information Institute recently released information from a study that indicated most insurers believe that crashes involving self-driving cars will cause a shift from personal liability to manufacturer liability.
Therefore, claims for accidents caused by human error will be the same as now. Yet, if the car is driverless or on auto-pilot mode, the liability falls on its manufacturer if caused by a defect in the car’s system.
Self-Driving Cars Impact on Insurance
Even self-driving cars will need liability insurance, but insurances are likely to change, and comprehensive coverage could become cheaper. Driverless car regulations will require the federal government’s involvement, which may mean that states will have less say in insurance laws than they have today. One thing is certain, people driving across U.S. states will have more consistent regulations.
Since an intelligent machine or robot drives a driverless or self-driving car, another insurance issue is whether these machines require insurance, just like a driver does.
Determining Liability in a Self-Driving Car Crash
Liability in most car crashes today falls on one of the two drivers. However, determining liability may become more tricky if an accident involves a car with a driver and a self-driven vehicle.
In this event, the approach changes and does not just rely on statements given by the drivers. Instead, cars today, especially driverless ones, have an electronic control module that records all the information about the vehicle, much like the black box of a plane.
In cases where determining liability is complex, the likely scenario is that the manufacturer of the driverless vehicle will need to prove that it did not cause the crash. This means that the onus won’t fall on the other car’s driver, and the manufacturer will take the blame.
Product liability laws already exist, and carmakers already take the blame if a defect in one of their models causes accidents. Therefore, any self-driven vehicle manufacturer is likely to be liable if one of their cars causes an accident without even needing any changes to the law.
However, that does not mean that driverless car manufacturers will always be willing to pay out claims. Lawyers say that everyone involved in a car accident will still need to prove the extent of the damages they suffered and will find it just as tricky to negotiate with insurance adjustors.
Is it Possible to Hold the Driver of an Autonomous Car Liable?
Yes, the driver or owner of an autonomous car can be held liable for a car crash under several circumstances. Firstly, in a car crash with a self-driving car, its driver or owner will be responsible if they take the vehicle off its autopilot to drive it themselves.
Secondly, just like all cars, self-driving cars need regular maintenance according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Servicing ensures that everything in the vehicles works optimally. If the owner fails to service the vehicle as recommended, they will be liable if one of these parts fails to cause the accident.
Technical glitches and human error are the two leading causes of road accidents between human-driven and self-driven cars. Figures show that the U.S. will have at least 4.5 million self-driven vehicles by 2035. Since liability is not easy to contest, claims will become more complex. Therefore, you should always contact your lawyer to ensure you have experienced help deciding whom to claim for economic and non-economic damages.
The senior editor of Legal Scoops, Jacob Maslow, has founded several online newspapers including Daily Forex Report and Conservative Free Press