If An Autonomous Vehicle Crashes, Who Bears the Responsibility?

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

When a driverless car crashes, one of the biggest questions is who is to blame. Does liability rest with the motorist, or the vehicle? Autonomous vehicles are gaining more traction and increasing in number on our roads. As this happens, this question and others associated to driver/car responsibility will be given more urgency.

It’s important to determine responsibility. Imagine, for example, that you run a warehouse in which forklifts run automatically. Humans work side by side with them, and a worker gets struck and injured by the machinery. Are you at fault? Will your firm, as detailed by one work injury lawyer in Philadelphia, have to pay up to 500 weeks of workers compensation? Or will the manufacturer be at fault?

After the most recent incident involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars hitting and killing a pedestrian crossing the road with her bike, they, along with Toyota and Nvidia, briefly ceased testing of their driverless fleets. The state of Arizona subsequently revoked Uber’s permission to test their autonomous vehicles in their state. In other areas, the permit process for autonomous vehicles has become far stricter.

Safer Travel

Autonomous vehicles promise to reduce costs for logistical businesses by negating the need for paid drivers. The technology also promises to deliver a reduction in road accidents at all levels of severity. This can be by as much as 8.8 crashes per million miles when studying the worst types of road incidents.

In most crash scenarios, human error plays a major role, pointing to a further decrease in road incidents as self-operating vehicles become more common on our roads. Currently, most autonomous vehicles need a driver behind the wheel as a backup should the software or hardware that powers the car fail, or other intervention is required. This, however, further complicates the question of responsibility in the event that something does go wrong.

If a driver is behind the wheel of an autonomous car when it crashes, are they responsible? Is the manufacturer of the vehicle to blame, or the software developer? Suddenly, more parties are implicated in a road incident, complicating the issue beyond current legislation and regulation.

Multiple Liability?

Determining who is responsible for a road accident when an autonomous vehicle is involved becomes a minefield of as yet unanswered questions:

  • Was the software included out of date?
  • If so, is the operator at fault for not updating it?
  • Did a defect in the hardware or software cause the incident?
  • Should the driver have intervened, and could they have reasonably been expected to do so under the circumstances?

Furthermore, if fault is found to be with an autonomous car, is liability transferred from the operator to the manufacturer or the software developer? In personal incidents, these questions and others are likely to draw out the processing of insurance claims and increase court times drastically.

Further information will need to be collected in order to properly determine who is to blame. In commercial cases, such as Uber’s incident, it is likely the business’ insurer would accept liability, unless it is unequivocally determined they are not at fault.

Currently, when a vehicle crashes, the human driver tends to be considered at fault unless information or circumstances prove otherwise. Systematic problems with the vehicle are examples of circumstances in which human drivers can deflect the blame.

Where Are We Headed?

As autonomous vehicles become more widespread, liability lawyers and insurers will need to work quickly to hammer out new policies and procedures that clarify issues of liability and accountability when things do go wrong. Insurance laws will need to clarify what multiple liability is and how blame is divided when drivers have given autonomy over to their car.

Furthermore, regulators and the rules governing our roads may need to be reviewed. In some instances, they may even require updating to make way for this new technology. The advancement of self-driving cars is moving much faster than the laws and regulatory bodies who govern our roads at present.

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