Who is Liable for Accidents Caused by Autonomous Vehicles?

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If you were injured in a car accident with a driverless vehicle, you may be wondering if you are entitled to damages for your injuries. Autonomous vehicles are new and innovative means of traveling; however, when they crash, the question of liability is ambiguous. When a driverless car crashes, who is liable? The owner of the car? The manufacturer? The Philadelphia car accident attorneys at The Reiff Law Firm discuss the progression of autonomous car legislation and who may be held liable in a collision.

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Risks Associated with Driverless Cars

Technology grows and changes every single day. Netflix replaced video rental stores, Google knows everything, and cell phones recognize faces. It was only a matter of time before motor vehicles could drive themselves. Most people probably contemplate the idea of autonomous cars and think, “What could be better?” Gone are the days when people had to drive to the library to do research, pick up the phone to order takeout, and look at a paper map to get from A to B. The driverless car is just another means of convenience and a symbol of how far technology has come, especially in the last two decades.

There is a risk for collision any time a person puts the key in the ignition and presses the gas pedal. Driverless cars are a completely different animal from manual and automatic transmissions. Autonomous vehicles are designed to drive conservatively. They feature cameras that allow built-in software to interpret traffic lights and road signs. Their sensors detect movement (or lack thereof) from other vehicles and pedestrians.

The programming and software components behind self-driving cars are undeniably impressive. They represent an advancement in technology that could bring independence to people who cannot drive themselves whether it be for reasons such as age, disability, or illness. Self-driving cars have the potential to make our highways safer and reduce the number of motor vehicle deaths that occur each year. There are inquiries regarding the level of precision by which driverless cars can mimic human reaction and movement. While they do contain sensors, driverless vehicles do not have the ability to read the body language and human signals of other drivers. How fast can autonomous cars react to the sudden maneuvers of other vehicles? Will their systems crash if their software does not recognize certain signs or roadblocks? These are questions that remain unanswered.

Liability for Collisions With Driverless Cars

Pennsylvania is still in the process of passing legislation that will allow for testing and regulation of driverless cars. In February 2017, Senate Bill 427 was introduced to the Pennsylvania legislature. This bill provides that by no later than January 1, 2020, laws and regulations will be put in place for civil, criminal, and insurance liability of autonomous vehicles. It will undoubtedly be a while before the state introduces autonomous vehicles to its roadways. If and when autonomous vehicles do become part of the daily commute, the question looms about whether traffic safety will improve or if Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers will have their hands full with injury claims.

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Some people predict that autonomous vehicles will eventually do away with auto insurance altogether. For the time being, a few states have spoken about plans for various policies that will potentially define who can be held liable in a collision with a driverless car. Michigan passed legislation that holds a manufacturer liable if a driverless car’s operating system malfunctions. Manufacturers of driverless cars have also expressed disparate views as to who should be held liable in a collision. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has said that his company should only be held liable if a court finds that a design defect caused the crash. He has said that in any other circumstance, the driver’s own auto insurance company should be responsible for losses. Håkan Samuelsson, CEO of Volvo, affirmed that whenever one of Volvo’s vehicles is in full autonomous mode, the company will accept full liability in the event of a collision. 

Executives at Google and Mercedes have said that once their autonomous cars are on the market, they will accept liability for crashes. They expressed anticipation that there will be fewer crashes as technology progresses. These statements should be taken with a grain of salt as there is no way to truly know what kind of impact autonomous cars will have on America’s roadways. If traffic accidents increase, it would not be a surprise to hear that Volvo, Google, and Mercedes retracted their initial promises.

Pennsylvania Car Accident Lawyers

It will most likely be a long time before autonomous vehicles occupy the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s streets and highways. Whether our roadways will be safer with driverless cars remains to be seen. For the time being, the Bucks County car accident attorneys at The Reiff Law Firm will continue to represent victims who were injured at the hands of negligent drivers. Filing a personal injury claim for injuries sustained during a car accident while trying to determine which parties are liable is a tedious and stressful ordeal. Let the Pennsylvania car accident attorneys at The Reiff Law Firm handle your legal issues so that you can be rewarded with the compensation you deserve. Do not wait any longer. Call our lawyers today at (215) 246-9000 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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