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Is A Car Company at Fault if Auto-Drive Causes an Accident?

Car accidents are one of the most common causes of personal injury lawsuits nationwide. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, around 4.4 million people in the U.S. are seriously injured in car accidents each year. The arrival of full auto-drive vehicles, however, seeks to lower that number. Car manufacturers have made claims that auto-drive vehicles can be trained to be safer than human-controlled cars. While these developments may improve road safety, new questions arise as to who can be held liable after an accident involving auto-drive.

Auto-drive may open the door to car companies being held liable for car accidents. There have already been multiple accidents involving auto-drive vehicles in the U.S. However, the U.S. has not yet established federal regulations for autonomous driving systems, so laws can vary from state to state.

If you have been injured in an accident involving an auto-drive vehicle, you should contact our Pennsylvania car accident lawyers today by calling The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940 for a free case review.

Car Company Liability for Accidents Caused by Auto-Drive

After an accident, a car accident lawyer will need to prove who was at fault in order to get a victim compensation for their injuries. Drivers are required to operate their vehicles with reasonable care and follow the rules of the road. A failure to do so may leave a driver at fault. For example, if a driver in a car accident committed a traffic violation at the time of the incident, drove drunk, or made another major mistake while driving, they can be held responsible for any injuries caused by the accident.

However, auto-drive vehicles may insulate a human driver from liability if the driver was not in control at the time of the accident. It follows that a car manufacturer would be held responsible for an auto-drive accident if it occurred because of in the system’s programming or a defect in the vehicle’s operation.

Multiple noteworthy accidents involving autonomous driving systems have already occurred, and some manufacturers in the U.S. have stated they are willing to take responsibility for accidents caused by their auto-drive systems. Meanwhile, other manufacturers have denied responsibility. An experienced Allentown car accident lawyer will be able to accurately assess liability for any accidents involving self-driving cars.

The following auto manufacturers have already gone on record as to how they want liability to be assessed in cases involving their auto drive vehicles:

Mercedes to Accept Liability When Auto-Pilot is Engaged

Mercedes’ new Drive-Pilot system has already been approved for select German highways for use at speeds below 40mph. Mercedes’ technology appears more advanced than any other auto-drive systems to date, being dubbed a “Level 3” technology instead of the other “Level 2” technologies already at use in the U.S. This system will launch in the U.S. later this year.

The auto manufacturer appears confident in their new technology, as they have stated they will take full legal responsibility for accidents that occur while Drive-Pilot is engaged. Mercedes Drive-Pilot senior development manager Gregor Kugelmann went so far as to suggest that a driver could pay zero attention to the road ahead, play on their phones, and even watch a movie.

Problems with this technology and this system for determining fault might still occur, however, if the system disengages by accident or before it is supposed to. In cases where a driver is not prepared for the system to disengage or does not know the system has disengaged, there is no existing legal doctrine for assigning fault.

Volvo Accepts Liability for Self-Driving Cars

Volvo’s President and Chief Executive Håkan Samuelsson also said that the company would accept full liability for car accidents whenever one of its cars is in autonomous mode. Volvo has not elaborated on this claim to accept full liability, but it appears that Volvo drivers should not be held liable for accidents that occur when their vehicle is in self-driving mode.

Again, this makes no mention of what happens if the self-driving mode disengages without the driver’s knowledge.

Google Accepted “Some Responsibility” When Their Self-Driving Car Hits Bus

In 2016, Google reported that one of its self-driving vehicles struck a bus in Mountain View, California. According to the report, a self-driving Lexus RX450h sought to get around some sandbags when it struck a bus while re-entering the center of the lane. Google stated that they clearly bear some responsibility but have since refined their software to better handle such situations in the future.

U.S. Department of Transportation Investigates Tesla

Auto manufacturer Tesla has fought against assuming liability for accidents involving their self-driving cars. However, in 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation opened an investigation into Tesla’s auto-driving system after 11 accidents were reported since 2018, resulting in 17 injuries and one death.

In the report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stated that in each of the accidents, Tesla models in self-driving mode encountered first responder scenes and struck one or more vehicles involved. However, Tesla’s autonomous driving system still requires drivers to have hands on the wheel. This allows Tesla to argue that the human driver is still “in control” when one of their cars is in self-driving mode.

Could the Owner of an Auto-Drive Car Still Be Held Liable?

Situations may still arise where the owner of an autonomous car will be held responsible for an accident. If a self-driving vehicle requires specific service or maintenance to run optimally, the owner of the vehicle can be held liable for an accident if a failure to maintain contributed to the crash.

Furthermore, once a driver takes their vehicle off of auto-pilot, they are responsible for any accidents that occur thereafter. Issues may arise with auto-drive features disengaging during emergency situations or because of errors with the programming. Complaints have also been made against auto manufacturers that require the driver’s hands to be on the wheel while self-driving mode is engaged. According to these complaints, the auto-drive feature remained engaged even after the driver took their hands off the wheel or even climbed into the back seat of the car.

Liability can always be contested. Therefore, it is important to contact a Bucks County car accident lawyer after a self-driving car crash to review your case.

If You Were Injured in a Crash Involving a Self-Driving Car, Our Car Accident Lawyers Can Help

If you were injured in an accident involving a self-driving vehicle, contact our Philadelphia car accident lawyers today by calling the Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940 for a free case review.

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