Liability in Self-Driving Car Accidents

Tesla CarWhile self-driving and autonomous cars loaded with crash avoidance features seem to be the way of the future, there will inevitably be bumps along the road. Recently, a man in Florida was killed while using the autopilot feature on his Tesla automobile. The Tesla smashed into a truck turning left in front of it after it failed to anticipate the truck’s movements. The family of the deceased accident victim is now suing Tesla. According to Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, the car failed to break due to the high ground clearance of the truck and a white reflection from the truck, which the car may have anticipated as an overhead road sign.

It’s important to point out, however, that Tesla drivers using autopilot are required to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to retake control of the vehicle at any time. The autopilot feature is not (yet) capable of allowing drivers to completely tune out, Tesla reminds us. Read Tesla’s statement here.

While self-driving vehicles provide a new and exciting opportunity, the safety of autopilot features must be closely watched. Lawsuits filed based on accidents involving self-driving cars could help make driving safer by leading to stricter safety regulations and safety enhancements by manufacturers. In addition to personal injury liability, manufacturers of vehicles with autopilot features may face suits alleging design defects or damage to resell value based on the danger posed by the autopilot. These lawsuits may require retrofitting or improvements in safety for autopilot features. Manufacturer Volvo has addressed liability head on by promising to pay for damages stemming from its autopilot system, set to debut in 2020.

At least one commentator has argued we should hold the robots manufactured by car companies accountable themselves. Frank Weaver, who wrote Robots are People, Too, argues that the robots that operate self-driving cars should be fully insured. Still, others reason that if you are ticketed while driving a self-driving car, the ticket should be paid by the manufacturer, not the driver.

Another realm of uncertainty in the self-driving cars arena is auto insurance policies and liability. Over time, and as more vehicles are equipped with self-driving capabilities, insurance companies may be able to better understand how these features reduce collisions and adjust insurance plans accordingly. In the long-term, autopilot on vehicles may make car insurance cheaper for everyone. In the short run, however, insurance prices could increase with the need for liability coverage. State legislatures will likely need to adjust insurance laws to meet the modern demands of self-driving cars and their drivers. For more information on the insurance aspects, check out this article.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident due to the negligence of someone else, it’s important to speak with an experienced attorney quickly. Accidents involving self-driving cars may pose additional risks and complications to your case.  Call the experienced Alabama car accident attorneys at Martinson & Beason, P.C. today for a free consultation.