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Looking at the issue of liability for crashes involving self-driving cars

In our last post, we spoke about recent research conducted at the University of Michigan which looked at the incidence of car accidents involving fully automatic vehicles. As we pointed out, that research suggests—contrary to some expectations—that self-driving vehicles may actually be prone to accidents that ordinary vehicles.

That finding, however, has to be qualified by the fact that the data is still very limited. Really, we need more time and information to get a more accurate picture of how well self-driving vehicles perform in ordinary driving situations. Still, the question is being asked as self-driving technology continues to spread: are these vehicles going to be any safer than ordinary vehicles?

Even though testing has shown that self-driving vehicles perform safely and accurately in a variety of ordinary driving situations, there are bound to be some situations where the technology just isn’t capable of the level of nuance necessary to completely avoid an accident. The question then becomes, who will be liable in cases where a self-driving vehicle becomes the occasion for an accident? Though some manufacturers have said that they would accept liability in cases where automatic driving technology fails, it is hard to say how everything would play out when such an accident actually occurs. Right now, there is no definite answer.

The liability issue is an important one, and the lack of clarity on the issue is a large reason why only four states currently permit testing of self-driving vehicles. Manufacturers have said that a uniform set of rules would allow the technology to be more quickly and accurately developed, so it is unfortunate that the liability issue has not been adequately addressed yet.

Liability, of course, is an important issue in any car accident case, and determining the parties that may be responsible for a crash victim’s injuries or death is an essential initial step when pursuing litigation. As things move forward with self-driving technology and accidents inevitably occur, it will be essential to sort the matter out in order to ensure that crash victims are properly compensated. 

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