Driverless Car Accidents—Who is at Fault?

  • Dan T. Matrafajlo
  • Wed Apr 2018
  • Car Accidents,
  • 0

Car crashedSelf-driving cars: science fiction or science fact? As strange as it may seem, self-driving vehicles may not be far from becoming a reality. But what happens when it comes to driverless car accidents? How is fault determined?

Imagine the pros and cons of owning a self-driving car. For example, you could sleep or read a book while taking a long drive. Or, if you are tired and stressed from a long day and stuck in traffic, you can relax and let the car do all the thinking and maneuvering for you. What a relief.

But what about the downside? In addition to the high cost (more than $100,000), a significant drawback is the potential for the self-driving car to have a computer malfunction—one that could lead to a crash possibly worse than one caused by human error.

Who would be at fault if someone is injured or killed in a crash involving a driverless car?

Liability Questions in a Driverless Future

According to research by Accenture in collaboration with Stevens Institute of Technology, there will be 23 million fully autonomous vehicles nationwide by 2035.

Car companies like GM, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagon, and Ford are showcasing self-driving car technology. For instance, Ford expects to have a fleet of driverless cars ready in 2021. Industry experts anticipate more driverless vehicles to follow the trend. Even technology companies like Google are testing driverless cars.

But recently, on March 19, a self-driving Volvo SUV operated by Uber struck and killed a woman on a street in Tempe, Ariz. This is believed to be the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology. Uber suspended testing.

Another driverless accident occurred on March 23 in Mountain View, California, when a Tesla electric SUV running on autopilot crashed into a barrier, killing its driver.

Who will be held liable if a driverless car causes an accident and someone is injured? Will automakers assume liability if the technology malfunctions? Will there be massive class action lawsuits if there are widespread accidents? Or, should the owner of the driverless car be liable for the actions of the vehicle? And how will this affect dealership insurance, for example, something like i4mt that covers a company that trades in cars from public liability?
Of course, there are other interesting questions. What about if a self-driving car is speeding—should it be pulled over? No doubt, the brave new world of driverless car technology will raise further liability questions, and the law—and the insurance industry—will need to evolve to answer them.

New Jersey does not currently have a law on the use of driverless vehicles. However, on March 5, a bill (S2149) was introduced in the New Jersey legislature considering legislation to permit testing and use of autonomous vehicles on state roadways. Before that in January 2017, New Jersey lawmakers introduced a bill (S2895) that would require owners of self-driving cars to insure their vehicles. Future bills will likely call for legislation to establish liability and owner responsibility. The Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafajlo will work hard to stay informed of changes to the legal landscape involving self-driving cars.

If You Have Been Injured in a Car Accident

If you or a loved one have been hurt in an accident involving any type of motor vehicle in New Jersey, please contact The Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafajlo. For a free case evaluation, contact Beninato & Matrafajlo TODAY.

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