Self-Driving Cars: Liability of the Future

One of Google’s new technological innovations is the self-driving car. According to Fast Company, in 2010 Google revealed that it had created a fleet of self-driving vehicles that had logged over 100,000 miles on California roads. Since then, more vehicles have been created and logged more miles on real roads.

Earlier this month, numerous news sources, such as SFGate, reported on the lack of accident reports available for accidents involving Google’s self-driving cars. The presence of self-driving cars on the road raises additional questions about what happens when they’re involved in accidents, and who can be held liable for personal injuries resulting from those accidents.


Google’s Self-Driving Vehicles

Google’s self-driving cars feature artificial intelligence software, a GPS array, mapping software, optical radar, and laser sensors that enable the car to know where it is going and what is happening around it. According to CNN, some experts believe that self-driving cars could reduce traffic deaths – if all cars are computer driven.

However, Google has faced some criticism over its reluctance to release accident reports for accidents involving Google’s self-driving cars. Over the past six years, Google’s self-driving cars have covered over 1.7 million miles and have been involved in 12 accidents, the latest of which was just last week. Google maintains that in each of the accidents, the self-driving car was not at fault.

Questions over road safety and liability are becoming more timely as BloombergBusiness reports that Google will be integrating more of its self-driving cars into California traffic as soon as this summer.  While all of the previous self-driving vehicles that Google has tested have been made by Toyota, Google plans to put several small Google-designed self-driving cars on the roads in Mountain View California. The cars are unable to drive over 25 miles per hour and will feature test drivers, as well as a removable steering wheel, an accelerator, and brake pedals.


Increasing Driverless Capabilities

Google is not the only company moving forward with self-driving cars. According to the New York Times, earlier this year, Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, announced that the automaker would be introducing driverless features in vehicles as early as this summer. A software update will give some Tesla vehicles a hands-free feature, which the company is calling “autopilot.” The update will also add additional safety features, such as automatic emergency breaking, blind-spot warnings, and side-collision warnings, as well as allow the vehicles to be summoned by a driver and to park themselves.


Who will be liable in an accident?

A recent Wall Street Journal article explored the issue of liability stemming from an accidents involving cars that are either entirely self-driving, or feature semiautonomous capabilities. Currently many of the options on the market, including Tesla’s upcoming software updates, require drivers to be engaged to activate the self-driving features – meaning that the driver is activating the feature, confirming that it’s safe to activate, and taking responsibility.

However, many cars are moving more towards cars and features that remove the need or opportunities for drivers to make a judgement call or take an action. There are still open questions as to how these features will exist among current laws that govern driving, such as New York’s requirement that a driver keep one hand on the steering wheel at all times. In some states, including California, cars that are too autonomous will require the driver to have a special registration.


Liability in the world of self-driving vehicles is still an open question. Our attorneys understand the nuances involved in exploring these new areas of law and how important it is to ensure that anyone who suffers a personal injury as a result of an auto accident, regardless of who is driving, receives the compensation that they deserve.


See Related Blog Posts:

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Examining Wrong-Way Highway Crashes, Protecting Wrong-Way Crash Victims

Driverless Cars and the Future of Auto Insurance

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