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Who Is Liable in a Self-Driving Car Accident?

Who Is Liable in a Self-Driving Car Accident?

Shapiro Law Team April 25, 2023 Car Accidents

Self-driving cars—also called autonomous vehicles—are cars that don’t require an active driver to operate them. While this emerging trend is promising for the future of the automotive industry, it does pose some difficulties.

For example, who is liable for damages caused by a self-driving car in an accident? This is just one of many questions American drivers are asking. If you want to learn more about how self-driving cars play a role in car accident lawsuits, check out the comprehensive guide below.

What Happens if a Self-Driving Car Crashes?

When a self-driving car crashes, the big question everyone involved will be asking is, “Who’s responsible?” It could be the vehicle’s operator, or it could be the manufacturer or software developer. The bottom line? It’s complicated.

Remember: Self-Driving Cars Aren’t Truly Driverless

What do we mean by self-driving cars aren’t driverless? Don’t they drive themselves? Yes and no. While self-driving cars do most of the work, a human operator is still necessary to take charge of the vehicle in the event of a system malfunction or failure. As advanced as today’s self-driving cars are, they still require significant technological advancements before they can be considered truly driverless.

How Safe Are Self-Driving Cars?

It’s difficult to say how safe self-driving cars are—or are not—due to a limited amount of accident and fatality data. While self-driving cars have caused accidents and fatalities since becoming available to the public, it’s too soon to tell whether those cases deem them unsafe altogether.



How Many People Have Been Killed by Self-Driving Cars?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), manufacturers of self-driving cars reported a total of 419 crashes as of January 15, 2023. Of those 419 crashes, 18 involved fatalities.

One detail to note is that 263 of the 419 crashes involved Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) cars, while the remaining 156 crashes involved Level 3 or higher Automated Driving Systems (ADS) cars. Self-driving cars are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with truly autonomous vehicles starting at Level 3. Roughly 62% of the reported crashes—including all 18 fatalities—involved Level 2 ADAS cars. In other words, no truly autonomous vehicles (Level 3 ADS or higher) have been tied to car crash fatalities thus far.

How Do Self-Driving Cars Impact Insurance?

Self-driving cars are designed to reduce the number of car crashes that occur each year in the U.S. According to the NHTSA, distracted driving caused 3,522 fatalities in 2021. Self-driving cars are equipped with safety features that reduce the risk of human error, like distracted driving. The hope is that as the self-driving car accident rate decreases, so will car insurance premiums nationwide.

Once again, it’s too soon to tell how self-driving cars will impact insurance rates in the long-term. It is likely, however, that a growing number of insurance claims involving self-driving cars will be filed against vehicle manufacturers and software developers rather than individuals. That’s because operators have a lower risk of being negligent in accidents involving self-driving cars than in those involving standard motor vehicles. It’s also likely that the type of car insurance policies self-driving car owners seek could shift in coming years.

self-driving car accident

Who Is Liable for an Accident Caused by a Self-Driving Car?

You might be wondering who is responsible if a self-driving car crashes. Here’s a list of the four most common liable parties in self-driving car accidents.

  1. The Manufacturer of the Autonomous Vehicle
    If the brakes give out or the steering wheel locks mid-drive, the manufacturer of the self-driving car is liable for damages caused by the accident.
  2. The Owner or Operator of the Autonomous Vehicle
    As we mentioned above, although self-driving cars do most of the driving, the operator still must stay alert at all times in case they need to take control of the vehicle. An operator who gets in a car accident due to negligence can still be held liable for damages. Operator negligence includes distracted driving and failing to obtain necessary repairs or routine maintenance.
  3. The Software Provider of the Autonomous Vehicle
    Software companies develop the software found in self-driving cars, like sensors that alert the vehicle of obstructions in the road or neighboring vehicles approaching the car’s blind spot. This technology can malfunction or fail and cause an accident, which would make the software developer liable for damages.
  4. Other Drivers, Pedestrians, or Entities on the Road
    In some cases, none of the parties listed above are responsible for the accident. Potentially liable third parties include other drivers on the road as well as pedestrians who disrupt oncoming traffic.

The Challenges in Determining Liability in Self-Driving Car Accidents

Just like in car accidents involving standard motor vehicles, the liable party in accidents involving self-driving vehicles must pay damages to the injured party. The catch is determining who the liable party is. Was the vehicle’s operator negligent, or is the vehicle’s manufacturer or software developer responsible?

If the vehicle manufacturer or software developer is held liable for damages caused during the accident, the injured party will file a product liability claim. Unfortunately, product liability claims often take longer to settle than personal liability claims—which are more common in cases involving standard motor vehicles. If you file a product liability claim, you could wait some time before receiving financial compensation.

Scottsdale’s #1 Car Crash Lawyer

With the ever-increasing complexities of today’s automotive industry, hiring an experienced personal injury attorney after a car accident is more important than ever. When you get into a crash involving a self-driving vehicle, you can count on Scottsdale’s leading personal injury attorney to help you navigate the claims and liability process. We have locations in Phoenix, Glendale, Tempe, and Mesa, and we’re here to seek maximum financial compensation on your behalf. Schedule your free consultation with Shapiro Law Team today to receive the Superior Representation you deserve.

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