Have you seen a self-driving car on the road? It's unnerving to see a vehicle driving around town without a driver, but we'd better get used to the idea. We'd better create a plan for how to handle self-driving vehicle crashes as well.
For one, we need to establish clear ways of determining who is at fault in self-driving vehicle collisions. We also need to determine who will be liable if the self-driving car is at fault. Will it be the owner of the self-driving car, the automaker or both?
Key points to consider in self driving car crashes
Because self-driving cars don't have a driver to blame for the accidents they cause, it's important to look at these situations from as many perspectives as possible. Here are a few key points to think about in terms of self-driving vehicle accidents:
- Self-driving cars can drive alongside normal vehicles in mixed traffic and at normal rates of speed.
- The benefit of a self-driving car is that investigators can access all of its sensor data to know exactly what it did, how it was acting and what role it may have played in the collision, or in response to the danger of the collision.
- A self-driving vehicle would not take inappropriate risks that could result in a collision.
- The self-driving vehicle has the computational power necessary to determine what level of aggressive action is necessary and reasonable to avoid a particular collision.
- The actions taken by a self-driving vehicle to avoid a collision could be scrutinized by the court to determine if they were reasonable or not given the circumstances.
A difficult legal problem to analyze
The last two points are probably the most difficult aspects of self-driving cars in terms of liability. For example, what if a pedestrian is in the road and the self-driving car has to make the decision: Should I hit the pedestrian and save my occupants? Or, should I endanger my occupants by veering into opposing traffic lanes.
It's the need to make difficult judgment calls like this that might -- in some ways -- make a self-driven car more accident prone. A driver might be able to assess the risk of driving into empty oncoming lanes to avoid the pedestrian, but the robot driver might not be able to assess such risks. The result could be a crash that a human driver would have avoided by taking a reasonable risk.
In this case, if the pedestrian was unlawfully in the road, the robot driver struck him or her, the robot driver might not be at fault. Perhaps this is precisely the reason why we see many instances of self-driven vehicle crashes, but the autonomous vehicle is usually not at fault. Are we forgetting the vital role human minds play in navigating traffic to avoid crashes with other human minds?
If you were involved in a crash with a self-driving car
If you get hurt in a crash that involves a self-driven car -- regardless of whether you were in the self-driven car or another vehicle -- you may want to investigate your legal rights and options. Your case could involve unique and uncharted areas of personal injury law.