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How the Law Might View Accidents Caused by Self-Driving Cars

Aug 19, 2016 Brown Moore Car Accidents

Last year, the results of self-driving car accidents were revealed to be caused by human drivers in other cars. Early this year, the news focused on a driverless car that attempted to safely evade sandbags, but side-swiped a bus when re-entering traffic.

In June, Tesla had to publish a message of sympathy after a participant in a test program of the self-driving Model S tragically died because his vehicle failed to see a white tractor-trailer due to reduced contrast against a bright sky. While this accident might have been prevented in several ways, it opens the door to several new legal issues pertaining to liability.

New Technology Can Lead to New Legal Issues

This incident helps illustrate new legal issues that might become the norm if driverless cars enter the nation’s roads on a regular basis.

As Tesla explains, fatalities from traditional motor vehicle accidents are all too common. They also assert that using autopilot in their test vehicles is optional and drivers are expected to remain fully engaged. The company issues many warnings, and the autopilot feature is disabled by default. In other words, drivers need to choose their use voluntarily, based on conditions, just as drivers would not use cruise control in stop-and-go traffic.

Although investigation results are still underway, our Charlotte car accident lawyers believe that liability lawsuits are virtually inevitable in cases like this one. Clearly, many questions need to be answered, such as:

  • Are the occupants in control of driverless cars fully liable because they failed to take manual control to avoid an accident?
  • Are car manufacturers liable under product liability law when their vehicles make bad judgment calls or fail to accurately sense traffic conditions?
  • Can the existence of clear and prominent safety warnings help to protect manufacturers from liability?
  • Will insurance companies change the rules when insuring autonomous vehicles?
  • Will injury victims need to pursue cases based on multiple areas of personal injury law, such as auto accident and product liability, and how will legislation in each area cause conflicts within any given case?

New technology is often open to issues like these. Consider the numerous questions that have come up through the years pertaining to cell phone use.

Assisted Driving Tests Places the Law in Test Mode as Well

Despite references to self-driving cars, Tesla does not describe its vehicle as autonomous; it requires an alert driver at the wheel, ready to take over when Autopilot is activated. Still, if the sensing devices in the car fail to identify an imminent danger, or if the vehicle makes a bad decision, identifying all liable parties after an auto accident poses some new challenges.

Regardless of how much new technology is involved, however, these cases continue to involve the same laws and considerations as any legal case pertaining to negligence. Experienced injury attorneys understand how to develop the technical knowledge behind each case and apply that knowledge within the intricacies of the law. For the skills needed to pursue compensation in high-tech claims, call us at 800-948-0577 or use our convenient online contact form.