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Accidents With Self-Driving Vehicles: What You Need To Know

The idea of a "driverless car" seemed far-fetched not too long ago. With recent leaps in automation technology, companies like Google and Uber have shown just how far the self-driving car has come and how it's poised to someday make human drivers obsolete. Even today's automobiles offer bits and pieces of this new tech, from systems that provide automatic braking to radar-guided cruise control and lane drift correction.

With new technology comes new questions, including how self-driving cars will impact personal injury claims. Taking human drivers out of the equation adds a new spin to the usual liability questions, which begs the following question: what happens if you're involved in an accident with one of these self-driving vehicles?

Seeking Liability

Self-driving cars promise to reduce and even eliminate accidents by eliminating the human factor. After all, driver error plays a role in 94 percent of car crashes in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, there are still plenty of bugs to be worked out, as demonstrated by several high-profile crashes involving fully autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles.

So, who's to blame if you're injured in an accident with a self-driving vehicle? As it turns out, there's plenty of blame to potentially go around.

The Car Manufacturer

Vehicle manufacturers could be held liable under specific circumstances, such as when a design flaw results in vehicle behavior that eventually leads to an accident. Otherwise, it's difficult to place sole blame on an automobile manufacturer, given the sheer number of companies that supply different components that make up the entire vehicle.

In the event of a mechanical issue that results in an accident, the blame could shift to another, unexpected source: the mechanic or service technician who previously worked on the vehicle.

The Software/Hardware Company

Hardware and software developers can also be held to account for an accident involving self-driving vehicles, especially with so much of the vehicle's behavior driven by a combination of specialized hardware and software. If a navigation sensor fails due to a software glitch or a defect in the underlying hardware, the developer or manufacturer may be held liable as a result.

But what if those systems were tampered or sabotaged by an unknown party? That's where the liability issue becomes murkier.

Self-Driving Vehicle Owners and Occupants

In a normal auto accident, human drivers are in control and, therefore, take on responsibility for any accident they're involved in. With a fully autonomous vehicle, it's the machine that's largely in control. Aside from inputting a destination or somehow manually overriding the vehicle, occupants of a fully autonomous lack direct control of the vehicle and, therefore, aren't likely to face any liability in an accident.

There are some exceptions, however. If any of the occupants manage to override control of the fully autonomous vehicle, they could face liability in the event of an accident. The owner could also be held responsible if the owner fails to update the vehicle's software within a reasonable time resulted in an accident later on.

With semi-autonomous vehicles, on the other hand, there's still a human element of control involved. Systems like Tesla's Autopilot and Cadillac's Super Cruise are designed to work on a semi-autonomous level, but still demand a large degree of human control. Under these circumstances, the driver of the vehicle remains liable in a crash resulting in serious injuries and/or property damage.

Current laws and regulations in the U.S. are still based on human drivers getting into accidents with other human drivers, so it may take a while for laws throughout the country to catch up with the impending arrival of self-driving vehicles.

For more information, contact an auto accident attorney like David Helfand PA.