Technology offers exciting new options in the automotive field that have consumers looking forward to advances that make driving cheaper, easier and safer. The power and size of vehicles bring inherent safety concerns.
Such apprehensions are particularly evident regarding self-driving cars. Motorists may wonder, “Who pays for damages if an autonomous vehicle damages my car?”
Liability in Automobile Accidents
Various elements can cause a collision, whether the operator is a human or a machine. The fault usually lies with the driver, road conditions or manufacturer.
A driver may be responsible for an accident if operating a vehicle in a careless manner. For example, a person may be liable if speeding, failing to yield or driving under the influence.
No vehicle for consumer purchase is yet fully autonomous. Utah has laws in place, as do many other states, to allow the development and testing of self-driving technologies. Some vehicles offer limited autonomous features, such as lane assist and self-parking.
A driver is still responsible for piloting a car and ensuring its safe operation. In many cases, a driver is at fault for carelessness or mistakes.
Manufacturer or Mechanic
However, a driver might not be liable if mechanical car malfunctions cause an accident. For example, defective engines or tires can cause a driver to lose control and crash. If the driver establishes that a defect in the part was responsible for the impact, the manufacturer likely bears the blame.
Manufacturers often become aware of defects and send notices to vehicle owners. Dealers usually repair such issues for free. If a driver does not correct the problem, liability returns to the vehicle owner for not ensuring its safety.
In other cases, a mechanic may do an inadequate job of vehicle maintenance or repair. Authorized repair shops have a duty to customers, and shoddy work may make the repairperson liable if a mistake leads to an accident.
Of course, if a vehicle owner does work on the car themselves, the owner is again responsible for any malfunctions caused by the work. Such liability can also occur when a friend or family member does the work instead of a registered shop that can provide limited guarantees.
Drivers have the responsibility to operate in a way that is safe for the conditions. A driver should yield, slow down or maneuver to avoid danger, regardless of posted speed limits or traffic signals. Such hazards can come from inclement weather or poorly maintained roads.
The government or road maintenance department may be liable when an auto accident occurs due to a lack of proper road maintenance. For example, a responsible entity may neglect to repair a pothole despite a high volume of complaints. An auto accident resulting from swerving to avoid the pothole or hitting the gap may make the government or road maintenance department potentially accountable.
Other times, nearby property owners create conditions for unsafe roads. If the person or entity does not resolve the issue, a driver who suffers a collision due to the conditions may be able to file a claim against the property owner.
The Role of Insurance Coverage
Utah requires drivers to carry liability coverage, which includes bodily injury and property damage. Since Utah is a no-fault state, each vehicle owner must have $3,000 in personal injury protection to cover their own medical bills after an accident, regardless of who is at fault. A person must pursue anything above this amount with a lawsuit against the liable party.
Autonomous Car Safety
A recent report states that self-driving cars have a higher accident rate than cars piloted by humans. The study shows that accident rates for self-driving cars are nearly double that of human-driven vehicles. While the accidents did not result in as severe injuries as human-caused collisions, the data reminds consumers of additional safety issues.
Overly Complex Systems
Vehicles have become more complex with a wide array of computerized gadgetry. Sometimes drivers encounter system failure from disparate parts interacting in unexpected ways. Adding an autonomous element to an already intricate system may yield unpredictable results.
Technological advancement is always a process of trial and error. Exhaustive testing cannot compare to real-world use that may lead to accidents.
For example, testing may not account for how a system recognizes pedestrians of certain skin tones or wearing particular types of garments. A vehicle may confuse light colors on a building or truck with the sky. Such an error could lead to product liability claims from a driver or victim of an accident.
Though no commercially available vehicle is totally self-driving yet, manufacturers may tout the driverless features. A driver is still responsible for staying alert and regaining control if danger appears.
Some drivers may gain a sense of overconfidence and become distracted. Since distracted driving is already a concern for automobiles without autonomy, self-driving features can likely lead to complacency. Marketers and dealers can contribute to this attitude by overselling the capabilities of self-driving vehicles, which may raise the potential for liability after an accident.
Many self-driving vehicles also use hybrid and electric vehicle technology. This clean energy source proclaims environmental benefits but has other drawbacks. Lithium burns extremely hot, and if a lithium-ion battery catches fire, it may burn for hours. Putting out a lithium fire requires a unique approach since adding water could create an explosion.
Internet-connected vehicles also raise concerns about online attacks. Hackers can access cars remotely and take over the piloting system. Though the attackers are responsible for the dangerous activity, the vehicle owner or manufacturer may bear some responsibility.
Failure to provide patches and updates to software after ascertaining a threat can lay the fault at the feet of the manufacturer. However, if safety features are available and the owner refrains from implementing them, the owner may again be the one to shoulder the blame.
Top Attorneys To Handle a Self-Driving Car Accident
Regardless of the reason, a victim of a self-driving car accident needs restitution to deal with economic and noneconomic harm. Contact the team at Siegfried and Jensen for assistance in determining liability in a collision with an autonomous vehicle and seeking compensation for damages.