September 24, 2021

Are Self-Driving Cars Safe?

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The introduction of autonomous vehicles is controversial. Despite recent accidents involving fatalities, companies are continuing to roll out beta versions of self-driving cars. It is for individual drivers to decide if this new technology is personally acceptable or not, but for those who opt-in, is the technology foolproof?

Driving Toward Disaster?

It is alarming to hear Tesla’s self-driving feature has tried to drive under a railroad crossing arm as a speeding train approached. Even navigation technology occasionally malfunctions, and there have been reports of drivers being advised to turn and go the wrong way on a one-way street. So how many accidents have happened involving self-driving cars?

According to NHTSA, approximately 36,000 people died in car crashes in the United States in 2019. Uber autonomous driving vehicles were involved in 37 accidents, even before the infamous death of Elaine Herzberg in Arizona. The data shows Uber self-driving test vehicles demonstrated less-than-stellar safety records in the months following up to Herzberg’s death. So who is liable if you are involved in a wreck with a self-driving car?

Self-Driving Car Accident Liability

Because the technology is brand new, laws remain unclear, but at least for the moment, the driver is generally held responsible for any mishaps that occur while they are behind the wheel. Most autonomous vehicles have mechanisms in place to alert drivers to disengage self-driving mode when a crash appears to be imminent, so the human can take control of the vehicle. The same mechanism is in place when conditions are deemed unsafe, for example, during bad weather. So for the most part, wrecks with autonomous vehicles have occurred because the human driver did not heed warnings. Therefore, the driver is assigned fault for the crash.

When the Manufacturer Is Responsible

Few cases have found the manufacturer to be liable. A Chevrolet Bolt using cruise automation technology caused a crash when it attempted a lane change and neglected to recognize a motorcycle in the next lane. The motorcycle was sideswiped before returning to the other lane. Chevrolet was successfully sued, landing the motorcycle driver a settlement award for injuries and losses suffered in the accident.

Filing a lawsuit with a manufacturer is extremely difficult because of the technology involved, the complexity of the software, and proving negligence. These programs and devices are supplied by various companies, which makes it very hard to figure out which technology failed and which company is actually at fault. Payouts tend to be larger when manufacturers are held liable but proving negligence is an arduous task.

The First Self-Driving Car Driver Fatality

In April 2021, a Tesla autonomous vehicle crash killed two people, the driver was in the front passenger seat and a rider in the back. CEO Elon Musk denied the self-driving feature was enabled and investigators struggled to determine liability. Complex cases like this are best left to the experts.

An experienced wrongful death attorney can thoroughly investigate any fatality and help victims hold the liable parties responsible, regardless of the situation. If you find yourself in a wreck with a self-driving car, it’s imperative to seek legal representation immediately. Never discuss the wreck with anyone, including the other driver. Everyone is upset following an accident, but it’s important to understand everything you say can be used against you. Since you may be suing a manufacturer with a large pool of very experienced lawyers, it is important to be discreet and let an experienced legal professional do the talking for you.


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