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What Happens If a Self-Driving Car Is Involved in a Car Accident?

Self-driving cars have gone from being science fiction to imminent reality. California especially is a hotbed of test driving activity for many autonomous car makers. Makers of these vehicles claim they are safer than cars driven by humans. Of course mistakes can happen, and such cars have been involved in accidents. Determining who is liable for such an accident, and who is responsible for compensation, will become much more difficult when these vehicles hit the road in greater numbers.

Recent Accident Involving Tesla

On January 23rd, 2018, a Tesla vehicle being operated by its autopilot crashed into the back of a fire truck parked on a roadway at the scene of a freeway accident. Fortunately, no one was injured in this car accident, though Fire Chief Ken Powell said that if firemen had been at the back of the firetruck, things would have been very different. The cause of this accident is still under investigation.

In 2016, the driver of a Tesla Model S was killed when the vehicle on autopilot crashed into a truck entering the roadway. After the investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the truck driver was at fault for failing to yield. The driver did not maintain proper attention to the road, and Tesla was found to be at fault for not ensuring that the driver stayed engaged enough in the driving process while on autopilot.

California Law and Self-Driving Cars

The 2016 accident highlights the fact that while the autopilot has come a long way, it still requires a driver to be ready to take control of the vehicle in case of an unforeseen event. In fact, California law currently mandates that any self-driven vehicle have a driver behind the wheel who is ready to take over should the need arise. Nationally, the federal government has recently taken steps to clarify who is responsible with legislation that governs self-driving cars.

Pursuing Liability and Determining Who Is at Fault

When the drivers of two vehicles are involved in an accident, it is often a rather simple matter to determine which driver is primarily at fault and how much each driver contributed to the accident. States enact different laws regarding fault, which may change the context of liability from case to case. However, there is always a human party responsible for negligence when considering avoidable accidents.

The addition of an autopilot introduces a third party that may also be responsible in case of an accident. The NTSB found the drivers of both vehicles and Tesla to be partly responsible for the 2016 accident that resulted in the death of the Tesla driver. Such situations are highly complex, but not altogether different from many cases that are more commonplace.

A product manufacturer may be partly responsible for an accident if, for example, the company produced faulty brakes that contributed to the wreck. In such a case, the insurance company and attorneys for the victim would negotiate a settlement, or the case would proceed to trial to determine the percentage of the accident for which the manufacturer was responsible.

In the case of self-driving vehicles, the responsibility for accidents may shift more from the drivers to the makers of the vehicle. Pursuing compensation from car manufacturers involving autonomous care accidents will likely require seeking compensation from large insurance companies. Having an attorney can make the difference in securing a fair and accurate settlement.

Self-driving vehicles will hopefully be able to deliver on their promise to reduce traffic accidents in the future. When these accidents do occur however, drivers and crash victims should seek legal counsel to help navigate these evolving and highly complex cases. The car accident lawyers at Henshaw & Henry, PC are available for a free consultation if you have been injured in a car accident in San Jose. Contact us online today!