Who is Responsible When an Autonomous Vehicle Crashes?

Who is Responsible When an Autonomous Vehicle Crashes

Self-driving vehicles are becoming a new reality. There are thousands of autonomous vehicles on American roads, and experts estimate the technology is going to continue to skyrocket. That said, a study done by AAA in 2020 found that an autonomous vehicle equipped with active driving assistance systems experienced an issue every 8 minutes on average while on the roads. With the rise of new technology comes new layers of liability. When it comes to crashes involving an autonomous vehicle, a number of parties could be considered at-fault.

The Driver

Autonomous driving technology is still in the early stages of development. At this point in time, most self-driving vehicles are still required to have a human driver behind the wheel to supplement the autonomous technology. The role of a backup driver is to pay attention to hazards the autonomous tech may not yet be equipped for, and take over the vehicle in the event of an emergency to prevent crashes.

Failure to do so could make the driver liable, in part, for the collision. For example, in 2018, a self-driving Uber fatally struck a woman walking a bicycle across the street in Tempe, Arizona. The backup driver manning the vehicle, who admitted to checking her work messages and watching television at the time of the accident, was charged with negligent homicide.

The Trucking Company

Though the use of autonomous trucks could help mitigate the number of crashes caused by human error, many believe that the liability risk could be transferred to the trucking company that owns the vehicle. Regardless of whether or not the vehicle is autonomous, trucking companies have an obligation to maintain their vehicles and ensure their trucks are safe before sending them out onto the roads. Failure to do so can cause an accident, and if the autonomous vehicle is a truck, the trucking company may be found at-fault.

The AI Technology Company

Autonomous trucks are equipped with a number of systems to assist the vehicle, including cameras, radar systems, speed monitoring systems, depth sensors, and autopilot technology. If that technology were to fail while a self-driving truck was on the road, it could result in an accident. Although the law has not evolved to address autonomous vehicles, in some circumstances, the company in charge of manufacturing the self-driving equipment could be liable in the case of an accident.

The Manufacturing Company

In some cases, the accident could be caused by malfunctioning or defective vehicle products. Similar to these cases in regular vehicles, defective products can cause the vehicle to malfunction, or cause errors that the AI system cannot anticipate or prevent. If an accident is caused by an autonomous vehicle is caused due to a defective auto part, the manufacturer may be liable, and the people involved may have grounds for a product liability claim.

The Maintenance Company

The party or company in charge of the vehicle’s maintenance can also be liable in some cases because if maintenance is done improperly or neglected, it may result in an accident. Failure to ensure the vehicle is safe to drive and has undergone all necessary checkups and updates could mean the maintenance company is liable in the case of an accident.

When it comes to liability in an accident involving an autonomous vehicle, the law is still evolving. There are many factors that can play into the incident and thus have a hand in determining fault. In addition, there is also the potential for conflicts of interest between the driver and other passengers and the operational equipment—for example, occupants placing their own safety over that of those around them despite the vehicle. In the event of an accident involving a self-driving car or truck, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney to determine the circumstances of the accident and place liability.

If you have been involved in an accident involving a self-driving car or truck, call The Callahan Law Firm today to speak with one of our Houston Car and Truck Accident Attorneys. We have been successfully representing injured people and their families for over 25 years, and we can help you too. Give us a call at 713-224-9000, or fill out our contact form here.