Exploring Liabilities in Car Accidents Involving Self-Driving Cars

The emergence of autonomous vehicles holds promise for safer roads and fewer collisions. However, as this technology becomes increasingly prevalent, questions about liability in autonomous vehicle accidents have emerged. When an autonomous vehicle gets into an accident, who is at fault?

The intricacies of liability in self-driving car accidents will be examined in this article.

Understanding Self-Driving Technology

Before diving into liability issues, it’s crucial to understand how self-driving technology works. TechTarget defines autonomous cars as vehicles that use technology to determine their surroundings and navigate from point A to point B. They use various technologies, including sensors, cameras, neural networks, etc.

For instance, Google’s Waymo project relies on sensors, cameras, and lidar (Light Detection and Ranging). It uses light as pulsed radar to measure distance from objects in the surroundings.

Based on the distance determined, the cars can move without human input. These systems allow autonomous vehicles to make real-time acceleration, braking, and steering decisions to safely transport passengers.

Levels of Autonomy

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has classified vehicle automation into six levels: Level 0 to Level 5. At Level 0, the driver has complete control; at Level 5, the car runs independently without requiring human input.

Most autonomous vehicles currently on the road are at Level 2 or 3. The car can handle some driving tasks at these levels but still requires human oversight. This hybrid approach introduces complexities when determining liability in accidents, as the vehicle’s automated systems and the human driver may share responsibility.

Liability Challenges

The absence of laws controlling self-driving cars is one of the main obstacles to establishing culpability in these kinds of collisions. Traditional liability laws were designed with human drivers in mind, making applying them directly to accidents involving autonomous technology difficult.

For instance, suppose you were hit by an autonomous vehicle (AV) in St. Louis, Missouri. In that case, the state has no clear laws about who should be liable for the collision. This makes it difficult for the victims to swiftly and appropriately demand compensation. Therefore, in such instances, only an experienced car accident lawyer in St. Louis could help establish liability and seek settlement.

According to TorHoerman Law, an attorney can legally represent you and offer you the right advice. They can also assist with the investigation to locate and compile evidence that will support your position. They can negotiate on your behalf with insurance providers to guarantee you receive the best deal. All these can help you throughout the legal procedure.

Potentially Liable Parties of a Car Accident

In cases where a self-driving car is involved in an accident, multiple parties could potentially be held liable:


If an accident is caused by a vehicle’s hardware or software defect, the manufacturer may be held accountable under product liability laws. Manufacturers are responsible for guaranteeing consumer safety when producing their goods, including autonomous cars.

Consider the example of AVs from General Motors (GM) that were licensed to offer cab services in San Francisco (SA). One of the vehicles led to a pedestrian accident. As covered by CNBC News, the car hit the pedestrian and stopped initially. But later, it started and dragged the person for around 20 feet.

This caused outrage among the people against self-driving car manufacturers. Following the incident, a group of people vandalized a Waymo AV on the streets of SA. A person from the crowd threw a firework inside the vehicle and set it on fire.

Software Developers

In the event that an error in the software caused the accident, the creators of the autonomous driving software might also be held accountable. Ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the software is essential for the safe operation of self-driving cars.

Vehicle Owners

In cases where the owner of the autonomous vehicle modified or failed to maintain the vehicle properly, they could be held partially responsible. Owners must ensure that their vehicles are in safe working condition, whether autonomous or manually driven.

Human Operators

In semi-autonomous vehicles, where human drivers are still required to intervene in certain situations, the human operator could be held liable. Determining when the human driver should intervene can be challenging and may vary depending on the circumstances of the accident.

For example, one of the first AV fatal crashes reported was an Uber car hitting a woman in Tempe, Arizona. According to The Verge, the operator pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years of probation.

Legal Framework

Governments and authorities struggle to create a legislative framework as the use of driverless cars grows. Some jurisdictions have already enacted legislation tailored to autonomous vehicles, while others are still drafting regulations.

The establishment of an autonomous vehicle no-fault insurance scheme is one strategy that has been suggested. Regardless of who was at fault in the accident, each party’s insurance company would cover their losses under a no-fault system. This approach aims to streamline the claims process and compensate accident victims more quickly, regardless of the complexities of determining liability.

Another potential solution is to establish a liability framework that considers the vehicle’s level of autonomy at the time of the accident. For example, the manufacturer or software developer may bear primary responsibility if the vehicle operated fully autonomously during the accident.

Despite the efforts, the legal framework around AVs is still complex. A Reuters article mentions that the problems with driverless cars are outpacing liability laws. Therefore, the law-making process needs to speed up to define clear regulations in this space.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Self-Driving Cars Safer Than Human-Driven Vehicles?

While self-driving cars can potentially reduce accidents caused by human error, their safety record is still being evaluated. Early studies suggest that autonomous vehicles could significantly decrease the number of accidents, particularly those caused by factors like distraction or impairment.

If an Accident Occurs Involving a Self-Driving Car, Who Is at Fault?

Responsibility can vary depending on factors such as the autonomy level, the human driver’s actions, and the cause of the accident. Liability may fall on the manufacturer, the operator, or other parties involved.

How Are Liability Issues Being Addressed by Lawmakers and Regulators?

The ethical and legal ramifications of self-driving cars are a topic of debate for governments and regulatory agencies. Some jurisdictions have implemented specific regulations governing autonomous vehicle testing and operation, while others are developing comprehensive frameworks.

Can I Sue the Manufacturer if I’m Injured in an Accident Involving a Self-Driving Car?

In cases where the accident results from a defect, you may have grounds to pursue legal action against the manufacturer for damages. However, the outcome will depend on various factors, including the strength of evidence linking the accident to the manufacturer’s negligence.

How Can Self-Driving Car Technology Be Improved to Reduce Accidents?

Continued research and development are essential for enhancing the safety and reliability of self-driving car technology. This includes improving sensor accuracy, refining decision-making algorithms, and conducting comprehensive real-world testing to identify and address potential weaknesses in the system.

To conclude, as self-driving technology continues to evolve, the question of liability will become increasingly important. While the technology promises safer roads, addressing liability issues is essential for fair compensation and accountability. In the future, legislators, regulators, and business representatives need to collaborate to create a legal framework that considers the nuances of liability.

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