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Who’s At Fault in a Self Driving Accident

While no fully-automated cars are currently available to the public for purchase, you are sharing the road with vehicles with driver assistance and other autonomous features. Who is at fault if an accident occurs due to failure of that technology?

This area of law is evolving along with automation in motor vehicles, but the car accident lawyers at Cousin Benny can explain the current situation and what is to come as cars are becoming increasingly autonomous. 

If you’ve been in a car accident, self-driving vehicle or not, contact the car accident lawyers at Cousin Benny for help. We treat you like family.

Determining Fault in a Self Driving Car Accident

In Pennsylvania, a “modified comparative fault” rule applies when both parties in an accident share the blame for causing it. When a car accident case goes to trial, the jury must consider two factors in awarding monetary damages: the total dollar amount of the plaintiff’s damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. 

That said, what happens when self driving auto technology fails or is inadequate to address the circumstances leading to the accident?

Factors Considered When Determining Liability in a Self Driving Car Accident

Human Error

Driver error is the most common cause of car accidents, whether an autonomous vehicle is involved or not. 

In any car that has some automated functions, a human back-up driver is there to take over should circumstances warrant it. If that driver fails to take over when they knew or should have known an accident was imminent, the fault may lie with the driver.

Technology Malfunction

If an automated feature on a car does not operate as it should and causes an accident, liability may lie with the driver/owner if the vehicle was improperly maintained or with the manufacturer.

Technology Defect

If an automated feature does not work as advertised, there may be a defect in the design. In this case, the manufacturer may be held liable. However, if the driver/owner did not submit the car for repair in response to a recall notice regarding the defect, the driver/owner may share the blame.

Who is Liable for a Self-Driving Car Accident?

Right now, there are no laws expressly addressing who is at fault in a self-driving car accident.  Lawsuits arising from such accidents are resolved on a case-by-case basis. Every accident involving autonomous vehicles has unique circumstances and is analyzed for liability based on those circumstances.

Self-Driving Car Accident Lawsuits

Car manufacturer Tesla has been sued a number of times for the failure of its Autopilot technology to detect other vehicles and pedestrians and for causing fatalities. The U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating the Autopilot system.

Tesla has also been sued for its inadequate driver alertness monitoring when accidents occurred and the driver was on their cell phone, playing a video game, watching TV, or was otherwise distracted.

Self-Driving Car Accident Statistics

According to Forbes, 41 states are considering autonomous vehicle legislation. The House of Representatives passed autonomous vehicle legislation establishing uniform standards for the industry, however this legislation has not been passed by the Senate.

The most common accidents involving autonomous vehicles are rear-end collisions and side swipes. Pedestrians are also at risk from autonomous vehicles and driver inattention.

According to The National Law Review, there are 4.1 car accidents for every million miles driven. When autonomous vehicles are involved, there are 9.1 accidents for every million miles driven.

The National Law Review also reports that only 12% of Americans feel safe in self-driving cars, and 28% don’t know how they feel about self-driving technology. That’s 40% of Americans without confidence in autonomous vehicles today.

This said, Global Nissan News reports that 55% of small business owners believe their fleet will be fully autonomous in 20 years, and 38% believe that will happen within the decade.

Damages Available After a Self-Driving Car Accident

If you are 50% or less at fault for an accident involving an autonomous car, you can recover monetary damages in PA.

Economic Damages

You may be compensated for your medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage for an accident involving a self-driving car. In the case of serious or permanent injuries, you may be compensated for loss of economic opportunity if your ability to work is impaired, as well as for future medical expenses.

Non-Economic Damages

You may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life if you are permanently injured or disfigured, and your family may be entitled to compensation for loss of consortium.

Common Causes of Self-Driving Car Accidents

The most common cause by far is inattention on the part of the back-up driver. Self-driving cars are at present not capable of responding to all driving situations safely.

Understanding the Different Levels of Driverless Cars 

Level 0 – No Automation

These are “regular” vehicles with cruise control, automatic ABS braking, collision alerts, and lane-keeping assistance but that do not have technology that takes the task of driving or steering from the driver.

Level 1 – Driver Assistance

These are cars that have either adaptive cruise control, which maintains a safe distance from other cars, or steering/lane-keeping assistance. Cars that have both of these features are considered Level 2.

Level 2 – Partial Automation

Advanced driving assistance systems take over for the driver in certain circumstances. These include Highway Driving Assist in some cars, which automates driving, steering, accelerating, decelerating, and braking as long as the driver has their hands on the steering wheel. Another advanced driving assistance system is BlueCruise from Ford, which allows hands-free driving on certain highways in the U.S. and Canada.

Level 3 – Conditional Automation

There are no Level 3 vehicles available on the U.S. market yet as the technology has not advanced to this stage. However, a Level 3 vehicle uses various driver assistance systems and artificial intelligence to make decisions based on driving circumstances. People inside the vehicle do not need to supervise the technology, which means they can engage in other activities. However, a human driver must be present, alert, and able to take control of the vehicle at any time, especially in the case of an emergency due to system failure.

Honda was the first automaker in the world to sell an approved Level 3 traffic jam assistance system to consumers, but only in Japan and in a limited quantity. 

Level 4 – High Automation

Level 4 autonomy does not require a human back-up driver because it is programmed to stop itself in the event of system failure. Level 4 driving automation is intended for driverless taxis and public transportation services which will be programmed to travel only between Point A and Point B. 

Level 5 – Full Automation

A Level 5 vehicle can drive itself everywhere in all conditions without any human interaction. The only human involvement in a Level 5 vehicle will be to set the destination. These are fully autonomous vehicles.

Why This Matters 

The less a driver is responsible for an autonomous vehicle’s operation, the less a driver is liable for an accident. Level 4 and 5 vehicles require no driver involvement, therefore a driver cannot be liable for any accidents they are involved in. Levels 1-3 vehicles require human driver attention and engagement, and if the driver is inattentive or makes a mistake, they can be liable for any accidents that occur.

Injured in a Self-Driving Car Accident? You May Have a Case – Contact Our Car Accident Lawyers Today

If you’ve been injured by or in a self-driving car, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the car accident lawyers at Cousin Benny to find out how much your case is worth. Free consultations are available. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Driving Cars

What is a Self Driving Car? 

The term “self-driving car” refers generally to motor vehicles that have some autonomous driving technology.

How Common are Self-Driving Car Accidents? 

Accidents involving self-driving cars happen at a greater rate than those involving regular cars, however, there are far fewer self-driving cars on the road.

Do Self Driving Vehicles Cause More Accidents Than Traditional Cars?

Statistically, yes. Self-driving car accidents occur 9.1 times per million miles driven, versus regular cars which get into accidents 4.1 times per million miles driven.

What Happens if a System Error Caused the Accident

If an accident is caused by the self-driving car’s automated system, the manufacturer may be liable if there was a design defect or the unit malfunctioned. The driver/owner may be liable if they failed to maintain the vehicle or respond to a recall notice regarding the feature that failed.

Are Self-Driving Cars Safer than Traditional Motor Vehicles?

The intent of designing and manufacturing autonomous vehicles is to make the roads safer by eliminating human error. However, technology has not yet advanced enough to reach that goal, and an attentive human back-up driver is always needed.

Benjamin Hoffman

Benjamin Hoffman is a practicing attorney licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Benjamin handles cases for individuals who have been injured as a result of an accident, slip/trip and fall or medical negligence.

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Benjamin Hoffman
Benjamin Hoffman is a practicing attorney licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Benjamin handles cases for individuals who have been injured as a result of an accident, slip/trip and fall or medical negligence.
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