Driverless Car Accidents: Who’ll Be To Blame?
Ever since cars first started hitting the road over a century ago, automotive technology and design has been in a constant state of change. Over time, cars have become more efficient, easier to operate, and most importantly, safer. Even one of the most basic car safety features we have, seat belts, didn’t start becoming a standard feature until the 1950s.
As time and technology progressed, automated technology started making its way into cars, from cruise control to anti-lock braking systems. Nowadays, drivers can buy cars equipped with increasingly sophisticated features intended to help prevent car accidents, like lane departure warnings, backup cameras, blind spot warnings, and automated braking that takes over if the driver doesn’t act quickly enough. Many companies are also currently testing out self-driving cars that are able to operate with little to no human input or control.
In theory, driverless cars could reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by car accidents. Since about 94% of all car accidents are caused by some type of human error, many people are hoping that using technology to reduce the possibility of human error will help make the roads a safer place to be. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that car accidents will become a thing of the past. In fact, automated cars could potentially make a big difference in the world of car accident law.
How, exactly, automated cars will impact car accident liability remains to be seen. Laws regarding driverless cars in general are still very much up in the air. But one thing that might happen is that car accidents could begin to be handled more like defective product cases. If car accidents are being caused by malfunctions or defects in an autonomous vehicle or one of its software systems, fault would shift toward manufacturers or the companies that make specific systems. Volvo is one manufacturer well-aware of this possibility and in October 2015, they announced they would accept liability for damages caused if their InteilliSafe Autopilot feature failed and resulted in a car accident.
There are some other circumstances when a vehicle manufacturer could potentially be held liable for an accident, such as if it was caused by an unnecessarily dangerous design choice or if they failed to provide consumers with clear instructions on how to operate the car safely.
It’s very important to remember that there are varying degrees of vehicle automation. The NHTSA uses a scale of 0-5 to rate how autonomous a car is, with 0 being a car that requires full human attention and 5 being a fully automated car. Even as highly automated cars start hitting the road, there won’t be an abrupt change where every driver on the road is suddenly driving a fully automated car, so human error can still occur. If an accident were to occur involving a self-driving car and a less automated car, it’ll be particularly important to contact a car accident lawyer since determining liability could be more complicated.