Driverless Cars: Who Will Be Liable For an Accident?

There are, on average, roughly 33,000 fatalities on roads in the United States annually. Out of that number, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety says that 90 percent of them were caused by human error. That seems like a lot of human error causing a lot of needless deaths. How do we solve this problem?

Robot cars, say companies like Google, Volvo Cars, and Daimler AG's Mercedez-Benz. These companies are betting big that their autonomous cars will create an accident-free future, where the precision of computing algorithms will put human-error road fatalities in the rear view mirror.

And that would be wonderful, wouldn't it? But if we're honest, we remember the last time our computer crashed, so what's to prevent accidents from happening even with super-smart robot cars?

And more to the point-who will be liable?

David Strickland was the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is now a partner at the Venable LLP law firm in Washington."There is going to be a moment in time when there's going to be a crash and it's going to be undetermined who or what was at fault," he explained. "That's where the difficulty begins."

There will be an entirely new group of defendants, asserts Kevin Dean, who knows a thing or two about suing the auto industry-he is currently suing General Motors Co. over their faulty ignition switches, and taking Takata Corp. to task about their defective and dangerous air bags. "Computer programmers, computer companies, designers of algorithms, Google, mapping companies, even states," Dean lists. "It's going to be very fertile ground for lawyers."

The motor companies developing autonomous cars have taken this into consideration, especially when you realize that liability could present a problem for the public when it comes to accepting driverless cars. The three companies mentioned above have all vowed to accept liability if their driverless cars are the cause of an accident.

Truth, or marketing ploy? The latter, many plaintiff's lawyers will undoubtedly say, like David Bright, a lawyer in Corpus Christi, Texas who represents victims in automobile defect cases. "Every car manufacturer says, 'We absolutely stand behind our car if there's anything wrong with it,"' Bright asserted. "Then they say, 'There's nothing wrong with it.'"

Seeing how autonomous cars were just the stuff of fantasy until the past few years (think KITT from the Knightrider television series), it's no surprise that modern product-liability law has not included rules for accidents involving them. The current law holds the car owner (usually also the driver) responsible for an accident, and if an owner wants to blame the manufacturer, then they need to prove that the car was defective or the company was negligent.

With a driverless car, especially the one created by Google with no steering wheel or gas pedal, these laws mean that the owner of the car would be blamed for an accident they were unable to prevent. So, not only will the first person to be involved in this type of accident have the opportunity to set a precedent by suing the driverless-car manufacturer, but they will probably bring up some problems for the current auto insurance coverage parameters.

How do you feel about this new wave of autonomous cars on our roads? Do you see it as the way to eliminate fatalities or the beginning of further chaos on our nation's roads and highways?

With New Year's Eve approaching, we'd like to remind everyone to ride with a designated driver or take a taxi home after drinking...until these driverless cars are as ubiquitous as our current ones and it can drive you home safely. If you are involved in a DUI, please remember to call us immediately: 866-416-2161.

Copyright: rioblanco / 123RF Stock Photo

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