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Who Is Liable for an Accident With a Self-Driving Car?

A higher number of self-driving or autonomous cars are now on the roads as the technology becomes more affordable for consumers. Unfortunately, these vehicles are not always safe. Problems with the technology, software glitches and negligent operators can lead to deadly auto accidents. Liability for an accident with a self-driving can be more complicated than after a typical car crash.

self-driving car accident liability

The Human Driver

Most self-driving cars on the road today are partially, not fully, autonomous. They still require human drivers to supervise the technology and step in when the software fails. If the self-driving technology warns a driver that roadway conditions require the driver to take over the controls, the operator must respond appropriately. If an operator ignores warning signals or is too distracted to pay attention, he or she could be liable for a resultant self-driving car accident. In cases involving test drivers for companies such as Uber, Google or Tesla in the early stages of autonomous vehicle testing, the company could be vicariously liable for the negligence of its employees.

The Auto Manufacturer

A self-driving car manufacturer might take liability for a car accident involving its vehicle if a product defect contributed to the crash. It is every vehicle manufacturer and distributor’s responsibility to ensure the reasonable safety of their products. This includes duties such as designing safe models, ensuring their proper manufacture, inspecting vehicles for issues and properly testing autonomous cars before releasing them to the public. Breaching any of these duties could lead to liability for an accident.

Although the federal government has not passed any safety regulations for self-driving cars, many states have enacted their own laws. Vehicle manufacturers must abide by their states’ safety rules when designing, building and operating self-driving vehicles. If the manufacturer ignores state laws and a car accident results, the manufacturer could be liable for damages based on the legal theory of negligence. A manufacturer could also be strictly liable (liable without having to prove negligence) if the car contained a design, manufacturing or marketing defect and this defect caused the car accident.

The Software Company

Many driver-less vehicles have software companies that are separate from the vehicle’s manufacturer. Sometimes, a flaw in the vehicle’s design or creation causes an auto accident. In other cases, a glitch in the autonomous software is responsible. If the driver-less software itself caused the car accident, the designer or manufacturer of the equipment could be liable for damages. The scanning system might glitch and fail to recognize an oncoming hazard, for example, causing the vehicle to collide with another car or barrier. In this case, the software company might be liable for the crash.

A Third Party

An accident with a self-driving car might not come down to the fault of the autonomous vehicle at all. A third party could be to blame, such as the driver of the other vehicle. These crashes might have nothing to do with the vehicle’s self-driving capabilities. If another driver was speeding, running a red light or driving recklessly, for example, the driver of the self-driving car or the vehicle itself would not be at fault. Liability for an accident with a self-driving car could come down to the other driver for recklessness, a property owner for a dangerous premises or the city government for an unsafe roadway.

Ask an Attorney

Self-driving car crashes generally require investigations to determine liability. An investigation could analyze the potential fault of a driver, the autonomous vehicle manufacturer, a software designer, third parties and a combination of defendants. Whether a remote operator caused the crash or someone not connected to the self-driving car at all is to blame, the party at fault may owe victims compensation for their damages. If you get into a collision with a self-driving car, hire a Richmond car accident attorney near you for assistance handling the complicated claims process.