Who Is Responsible for Self-Driving Car Accidents?

Who Is Responsible for Self-Driving Car Accidents?Technology has leaped forward in the last decade, taking driving assistance from basics like cruise control, reverse cameras, and lane detection to autonomous driving features that let drivers take a back seat—only they aren’t legally allowed to do so literally. The aftermath of a car accident is usually painful and chaotic, and untangling the legal process for claiming compensation for property damage, medical expenses, and income loss often continues the distress. But what happens to a car accident claim when the other vehicle in the accident was in a self-driving vehicle? Who is liable for self-driving car accidents?

The Driver of a “Self-Driving” Vehicle May Still Be At Fault In an Accident

Despite being popularly known as “self-driving” cars, autonomous vehicles still require a driver—with the exception of the driverless robotaxis in limited use in some California cities. An autonomous vehicle senses its environment and is programmed to react accordingly. Depending on the level of automation available in the car and deployed by the user, the vehicle may be able to perform all driving tasks, but with override capabilities by the operator at any time. As of this date, the law still requires drivers to remain in the driver’s seat with their eyes on the road, alert and ready to respond at all times. In spite of this law, some drivers—called “operators” in a self-driving vehicle—engage in risky behaviors like watching movies, playing video games, reading, or even sleeping while behind the wheel, relying completely on the car’s self-driving features.

If a driver practices unsafe behaviors in an autonomous vehicle, they are responsible for an accident caused by their vehicle. An investigation into the accident may reveal the driver’s actions at the time the accident occurred. If they were distracted, sleeping, or otherwise not ready to take control of the vehicle, they are liable for damages to any accident victims. The driver may also bear liability for an accident if they fail to keep up with all vehicle software updates and maintenance requirements.

The Manufacturer of the Self-Driving Vehicle May Be Liable for Damages

Some car accidents involving self-driving vehicles are caused by a flaw in the vehicle’s design or a software error. This injury claim in these cases becomes a defective product case with the car’s manufacturer liable for the victim’s damages. In this type of claim, the injury victim doesn’t have to prove negligence since manufacturers have strict liability for design defects or manufacturing mistakes if their product causes an accident with injuries.

The Manufacturer of a Defective Part or Software Designer May Be Responsible

In some self-driving car accident cases, the vehicle manufacturer used a vehicle part or software designed by another company. If the part or software is faulty, defective, or inadequate, the manufacturer of the part or the software designer is liable for the injury victim’s damages.

Other Third-Parties Could Be Liable in Self-Driving Vehicle Accidents

Some investigations into autonomous vehicle accidents reveal third-party liability. For instance, the accident may not have resulted from the car’s self-driving features, operator error, or a defective part. A third-party driver, a defective road maintenance agency, or a negligent street planning agency could bear liability in any car accident case, including those involving self-driving vehicles. If you’re involved in a catastrophic car accident, please contact an experienced Everett car accident attorney from Wells Trumbull for legal guidance and support.