Who is Legally Responsible for a Self-Driving Car Accident?

Who is Legally Responsible for a Self-Driving Car Accident?

In March of this year, the first recorded fatal collision involving a self-drive car and a pedestrian occurred in Arizona in the USA. While the case is ongoing, there are several vital elements that may affect its outcome. The first is that the pedestrian in question was wheeling a bike across the road without using a designated crossing.

Another is that it has been argued that the driver was watching videos on a mobile device right up to the minute before the crash, apparently relying entirely on the vehicle’s autonomous reactions. This information would slightly complicate any case involving a vehicular fatality, but the fact that a self-driving car was involved only adds to the tangle.

So, who is at fault when a self-driving car is involved in a collision?

Most self-drive vehicles do require an amount of input from the individual behind the wheel, as full autonomy is still relatively rare. However, if the vehicle involved in an incident is indeed completely autonomous, the outcome of any investigation is likely to rely on several factors.

If a design fault within the vehicle is discovered to have caused the collision, the manufacturers may be found liable. If the vehicle has been serviced at some point in its life, the blame may lie with the service centre that undertook any checks or changes as it could be argued that their actions were inadequate or may have created or added to a problem. The vehicle owner could also be at fault for ignoring communications or notifications regarding vital updates or adaptations required to ensure the vehicle’s safety.

Finally, there is still the possibility of a typical argument regarding the potential culpability of the driver of the car or another party involved in the crash. As it stands, the majority of self-drive cars can be switched in and out of autonomous mode according to the requirements of the driver. So the level of operator fault can be affected to a point by whether or not they were in partial or no control of the vehicle when an incident occurred.

It is not assured that pedestrians, cyclists or drivers and passengers of other vehicles involved in a collision will be considered free of blame either. If an individual is hit by a car after stepping out onto the road directly in front of it without looking, utilising a crossing or waiting for a safe moment, they cannot necessarily have their liability waived simply because the vehicle in question was autonomous.

Self driving  accident

Proper care should be taken at all times by all road users, including the drivers of self-drive vehicles. Human behaviour is unpredictable and, while the programming of many autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles is highly sophisticated, algorithms can’t be created to cover every possible conceivable outcome of every possible situation on the roads.

When it comes to cars that are intended to be fully autonomous or “driverless”, it is still a legal requirement in many countries that a human travels in them in the driver’s seat in case any input is required to prevent an accident. Drivers should not use self-drive cars of any level of autonomy under the influence of alcohol, nor should they allow their judgement to be impaired by tiredness or distractions such as mobile phones or other devices.

If, in a court case, it is found that the software of an autonomous car has failed and the driver has not been in a suitable state to react to a hazardous situation in its place, they could be held liable. In many self-driving vehicles, the automatic brakes are applied only when the human behind the wheel fails to react in time. They are there as a “safety net”, and should not be relied upon completely.

A strong argument for the further development of self-driving cars is that, in the long run, the huge number of fatalities that occur on the world’s roads each year due to human error will be dramatically reduced. This, of course, depends heavily on the capabilities of the software used.

Fatality Map

Image credit: Valuewalk

While this is still being honed and improved, we as humans need to be willing to remain alert behind the wheel or when using the roads. As you’ve read, liability for collisions involving autonomous or self-driving vehicles is very much determined according to each unique set of circumstances.

If you have found yourself in a road traffic accident involving a self-driving car, whether as the driver of the vehicle or another party, the most sensible approach you can take is to contact a lawyer or solicitor specialising in this field of vehicular law, such as DPP Law, immediately. Their experts have been successfully helping clients win cases surrounding negligence on the road for over 30 years.

Contact them any time of day or night, any day of the week on 0333 200 5859 to find out whether you can make a claim, or to arrange a defence if you are concerned about being taken to court.