Who is Responsible If a Self-Driving Car Hits a Pedestrian?

high-tech dashboard with holographic images of vehicle details

A Cultural Phenomenon

Self-driving cars have taken the world by storm - with major companies like Tesla, Google, and Uber all rolling out their own version of the autonomous vehicles. However, with this new development comes growing safety and liability concerns.

History of Self-Driving Cars

Decades before Elon Musk introduced the world to the phenomenon that is Tesla’s Autopilot update, a team of German engineers were credited with creating the first self-driving cars in the form of two modified Mercedes 500 SELs.

As former aerospace engineers, this team took the advanced technology that allows planes to go on autopilot and adapted it for the everyday vehicle. Although this experimental computer system took up half the backseat, Tesla’s version is all preprogrammed at your fingertips on the center console screen when you want to access it.

While this invention is considered a significant advance in modern technology, it has not come without its fair share of controversy.

The Growing Problem

Tesla came under fire from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in early 2020, five years after Autopilot was released, for the feature’s connection to car accidents across the United States. The NTSB had been warning against drivers using this feature for years and encouraged all autonomous car manufacturers to make this software harder to misuse. Many, including Tesla, simply opted to alert drivers when their hands were off the wheel while using the self-driving feature.

But Tesla isn’t the only company facing scrutiny. Google reports show that its own response to this trend, Waymo, had been involved in over a dozen accidents and even more almost-collisions over the previous year. The difference between Waymo and other autonomous vehicles, however, is that they are not for personal purchase but a taxi service based in Phoenix, AZ.

According to the Waymo website, these cars are expected to be safer since most accidents are caused by driver error. However, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety refutes this by saying that only one third of human accidents could have been avoided by an autonomous vehicle's perception skills.

Since all this evidence leads to the notion that accidents may be inevitable, who can possibly be responsible for pedestrian accidents caused by self-driving vehicles?

Determining Liability

This question of liability may not be so easy to answer. While each of these manufacturers require that a person still be in the driver's seat as a safety precaution, several of the accidents involving these vehicles resulted from this person not paying attention and correcting arising issues. This was especially true in the 2018 case involving an autonomous Uber test drive, which resulted in a fatal pedestrian accident.

Under normal driving circumstances, the driver is the person who is most likely to be held liable for an accident, with the manufacturer following if parts are faulty. The case mentioned above put blame on all possible parties - back-up driver, Uber, the car itself, the state, and the pedestrian (who was jaywalking), although ultimately charged the human driver.

While there may be no definitive answer for who can be held entirely responsible, the team at Manning Law, APC will strive to make sure your right to a safe trip is protected. If you or a loved one has suffered from negligence on the road, call (800) 783-5006 to schedule a consultation.

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