Self-driving cars have rolled out into the streets and taken center stage in a heated debate over safety. The federal government is convinced that the risk of a self-driving car crash is less than that of those caused by humans, but as auto crash attorneys, we remain skeptical.
Government officials have pumped millions of dollars into a “Zero Deaths” campaign. Their goal is to eliminate traffic fatalities in 30 years. Ironically enough, since the launch of the campaign, traffic fatalities have increased — up 10.4% in the first half of 2016. However, industry experts and government officials are using these alarming statistics as even more of a reason to move full-speed ahead with fully autonomous cars.
Self-driving technology is still in the beta stage — Casey Devoti & Brockland are well aware of the dangers of early-stage technology. As auto crash attorneys who fight for the rights of those injured by the negligence of others, we are concerned with developing technology and the dangers of self-driving car crashes.
As we have considered these issues, we have identified a few pressing questions, including:
- Who will be held liable when a car using the autonomous mode crashes?
- How will automobile insurance coverage evolve with the changing technology?
Liability in a Self-Driving Car Crash
First, we want to examine the issue of liability in the event of an autonomous car crash. Right now, most “self-driving” cars are only semi-autonomous and thus come with major disclaimers stating the driver must be ready to take the wheel at any second. The warnings intend to clarify that, if used responsibly, a human operator can correct the vehicle at any time.
However, the auto crash attorneys at Casey Devoti and Brockland remain realistic. If a person is not fully engaged in driving, how much are they paying attention to the road? Will they have enough time to react in the event of a self-driving car crash? What if a driver claims he tried to override the autonomous mode, but the technology would not allow him to take over? The question of liability is hazy in this instance — we have to debate if the blame falls on man or machine.
These questions bring up another area of concern — insurance coverage and how it will evolve as self-driving car technology evolves. Right now, insurance is state-regulated. Any auto crash attorney can tell you each jurisdiction has unique rules and regulations for auto insurance and self-driving cars. The federal government has yet to take a more comprehensive role, but this may change soon.
RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank, has suggested implementing a no-fault auto insurance system for self-driving car crashes. Such a system might help prevent manufacturers from becoming overwhelmed by litigation. The industry and the government certainly do not want product liability lawsuits to interfere with technology under development. The thought is a no-fault insurance system helps spread the burden of the cost of litigation with auto crash attorneys.
However, there is often dispute over who is at fault — the driver or the technology (manufacturer). As a result, all parties involved will increasingly rely on black-box data recorders to decipher what happened. This practice raises even more questions – who controls the black-box data? How will it be preserved in the event of a self-driving car crash? How forthcoming will a manufacturer be with the data when the technology fails?
Only time will tell how quickly self-driving cars will become mainstream. One thing is clear right now — the more our attorneys examine the concept and technology from all sides, the more questions we have.
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Matt Casey is a partner with Casey Devoti & Brockland, a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm. Matt handles personal injury cases, including automobile, truck and train accidents, medical malpractice, product and premises liability, elder care and sexual abuse, Workers’ Compensation and wrongful death.
Casey Devoti & Brockland Attorneys Matt Casey and Matt Devoti are also authorized speakers for the “End Distracted Driving” Student Awareness Program. Start your distracted driving case and learn more about self-driving car crashes — contact our auto crash attorneys for a free consultation.