Throughout automotive history, human beings have been behind the wheel and in control of their vehicles. When a crash happened, the cause could usually be traced back to a person, and that person could be held legally responsible for injuries suffered by others.
But now, the automotive world is changing, and we’ll soon be seeing vehicles that drive themselves. So the question arises: If a self-driving vehicle causes an accident, who is liable for the injuries that result?
It’s important for everyone to realize that true “self-driving” cars don’t currently exist. All auto manufacturers say they’re still many years away from manufacturing and selling truly autonomous vehicles. Self-driving capability is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE):
- Level 0 — No automation. The driver does everything.
- Level 1 — The driver does everything but the vehicle offers minor assistance, such as lane departure warnings.
- Level 2 — Partial automation of steering and acceleration exists, but the driver remains in control.
- Level 3 — The car can operate independently; steering, braking and acceleration are automated, but the driver must be alert and ready to take over.
- Level 4 — The car can perform all functions under certain conditions without intervention by the driver. Drivers can take control if they wish.
- Level 5 — Fully automated vehicles that can operate without a driver. These vehicles may not even have a steering wheel or gas pedal.
Since self-driving is so new to Texas and to the world, there are many unanswered legal questions about how liability for injuries and deaths should be assigned. The law is evolving, which means we’re living in a gray area at the moment.
Within that gray area, there may be room for liability to attach to various parties depending on the exact circumstances of each accident:
- The human operator: Because all self-driving vehicles today still require human control, the human driver could be at fault. For example, the driver might have failed to take control of the vehicle when its self-driving system encountered a situation it couldn’t handle, leading to a crash.
- The vehicle manufacturer: Like every vehicle, self-driving cars are machines. They’re made of mechanical parts that can fail and cause an accident. The brakes could be faulty, steering systems could fail, tires could blow out, and many other critical parts could fail. If a component was designed or manufactured defectively, then the designer or manufacturer could be liable.
- The software developer: Self-driving tech is often made by software companies and purchased by automakers. If the software doesn’t work properly, perhaps by failing to indicate the presence of a child in front of a vehicle, then the software company could bear responsibility for an accident.
- Other drivers: It is entirely possible for self-driving cars to get into crashes that were caused by other drivers. In that situation, the other driver or their insurance company may be responsible for paying damages to an injured party.
Ted B. Lyon & Associates is here to help anyone injured in a self-driving vehicle accident in Dallas or anywhere in East Texas. Call 800-833-5966 or send us a message to put our experience to work for you.