The Legal Liability of Autonomous Vehicle Accidents

Autonomous Vehicle Accidents concept image.

Once a concept that was confined to science fiction, self-driving cars are quickly becoming a reality. According to some projections, by 2025, we will be sharing the road with around 8 million autonomous vehicles. While this is an exciting technological leap, it raises serious questions about liability for autonomous vehicle accidents and how to prove fault after a crash involving a driverless vehicle.

Proving Liability in an Autonomous Vehicle Accident

Proving liability is an essential element of any car accident case. In the traditional assessment, human error is a significant factor in determining fault. But in autonomous vehicle accidents, liability could extend beyond the driver to include the vehicle manufacturer, software engineers, and others.

Importantly, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “[T]here is no vehicle currently available for sale that is fully automated or ‘self-driving.’ Every vehicle currently for sale in the United States requires the driver’s full attention for safe operation.” This means that regardless of the level of automation, human error continues to play a role in any collision.

The Role of Human Fault in Autonomous Vehicle Accidents

Even with the advent of self-driving cars, there may still be situations where human fault contributes to an accident. Autonomous vehicle technology has not yet evolved to the point where driving is fully automated, and drivers need to understand the limitations of self-driving technology. Drivers who abuse the technology or place undue trust in it can still be liable for their role in causing an accident.

In the future, determining a driver’s role in causing an autonomous vehicle accident will likely require sophisticated data collection techniques and an analysis of the autonomous vehicle’s sensors, monitoring equipment, and response systems to determine whether the driver was paying attention.

Data Collection to Prove Liability for Autonomous Vehicle Accidents

Vehicles are already equipped with sensors that provide the driver with real-time feedback about road conditions and other hazards. These safety features may include cameras and software that analyze the driver’s facial expressions, eye movement, and other factors to alert a driver to potential hazards or even respond to the hazard by, for example, engaging the brakes.

Automobile manufacturers continue to develop more sophisticated monitoring systems that use artificial intelligence to assess driver attention and respond to potential hazards. As autonomous vehicles become more sophisticated, proving liability in an autonomous vehicle accident may require the collection and analysis of vehicle data.

Increased Challenges to Proving Liability Could Complicate Litigation

In a two-vehicle accident, determining liability is typically a question of which driver was at fault for causing the accident. But in an autonomous vehicle accident, this two-party litigation could quickly expand to include the vehicle manufacturer, software designers, programmers, engineers, and others involved in creating and implementing the technology that would allow a vehicle to drive autonomously. Proving liability would become increasingly complicated and could involve questions about the autonomous vehicle’s programming and whether and to what extent that programming or hardware contributed to the accident.

Ethical Considerations in Autonomous Vehicle Accidents

In addition to legal liability, ethical considerations could arise in autonomous vehicle accidents. For example, autonomous vehicles might be programmed to make split-second decisions to avoid accidents. But how will this programming respond when the vehicle must choose between two undesirable outcomes? These questions could prompt serious ethical considerations about how decision-making algorithms are programmed and who should bear responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.

An Uncertain Regulatory Framework

As the framework for evaluating legal liability for autonomous vehicle accidents evolves, state and federal lawmakers, regulators, and others will need to adapt to address this new technology. Until they do, significant uncertainty could exist in litigation involving claims for personal injuries caused by self-driving vehicles.

To properly represent their clients, personal injury lawyers will need to be well-versed in the latest technology and regulations and how they impact the assessment of liability for autonomous vehicle accidents. Attorneys will need to be prepared to address issues such as driver liability, data collection, and liability on the part of creators and manufacturers of autonomous vehicle technology.

McKinney Vos Is Poised to Provide Comprehensive Legal Representation in Autonomous Vehicle Accident Claims

The emergence of autonomous vehicles is likely to reshape the legal landscape and challenge traditional notions of liability and responsibility. As autonomous vehicle technology continues to evolve, lawmakers, regulators, and legal experts will be called upon to establish clear guidelines to address the legal and ethical implications of autonomous vehicles.

McKinney Vos is positioned at the forefront of this emerging trend and is committed to providing zealous representation for people injured in autonomous vehicle accidents in Austin and throughout Texas. If you have questions about autonomous vehicle accidents or another type of personal injury injury claim, contact the personal injury lawyers at McKinney Vos today.

Categories: Car Accident