Who is Liable for a Driverless Vehicle Crash?

self-driving carFully autonomous vehicles may be farther away than people think, but many vehicles are already equipped with driver assistance technology that helps drivers with some types of navigation and operation.

While this technology has the potential to reduce accidents, it also raises questions, such as:

  • Who is liable for an accident if driver assistance technology was in use?
  • How will liability be assessed in an accident involving a fully autonomous vehicle when they become available?

If you or a loved one are injured in an accident caused by a partially automated vehicle, call the Sacramento car accident lawyers today to schedule a free case evaluation. We work on a contingency fee basis, meaning we do not charge you anything unless you receive compensation.

What is an Autonomous Vehicle?

When something is autonomous, it is self-contained and can perform a function without outside control. For motor vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has designated six levels of driver assistance technology:

  • Level Zero: No automation
    • The driver controls every aspect of driving.
  • Level One: Driver Assistance
    • The driver has control of the vehicle, but the car may provide some driving assistance. 
  • Level Two: Partial Automation
    • Steering and/or acceleration may be partially automated.
    • The driver must always remain engaged in driving and watch the outside environment.
  • Level Three: Conditional Automation
    • The driver is not required to keep watch on the environment.
    • The driver must always be fully prepared to take control of the vehicle.
  • Level Four: High Automation*
    • The vehicle can handle every part of driving, under some conditions.
    • The driver has the option to control the vehicle.
  • Level Five: Full Automation*
    • The vehicle can drive itself in any situation.
    • The driver may still be able to take control.

* This level of automation is not commercially available anywhere in the U.S.

Assessing Liability in a Crash with an Autonomous Vehicle

According to the NHTSA, more than 90 percent of serious vehicle accidents are caused, at least in part, by human error.

Currently, there are no fully autonomous vehicles on the road, and drivers are required to be monitoring road conditions, even when driver-assist technology is being used. While most driver-assist technologies are designed to alert drivers when approaching unsafe conditions, the driver remains responsible for operating the vehicle safely. If the driver’s actions – or inaction – causes a collision, they will likely be held liable.

It may be difficult to hold the autonomous vehicle manufacturer responsible for an accident. Outsourced technology may make product failure difficult to prove and identification of the responsible party complex. Furthermore, while the manufacturer of autonomous vehicle technology may potentially hold some liability, any driver carelessness will be a primary factor.

Insurance companies may also be able to access data from the vehicle to find out what a driver was doing before the accident.  

We Are Here to Listen. Call Today

Because driver-assist technology is new, there is limited legal precedent with autonomous vehicle accidents. If you are injured in an accident involving a driver-assisted car, it is important to have someone on your side who has legal knowledge and experience to help you through the process.

Our attorneys are prepared to look at the facts of your case, assess liability and negotiate with insurance companies while you focus on your recovery. Being involved in an accident is stressful enough without the added issue of determining who may be liable.

If you have questions after a car crash, the Arnold Law Firm is here to help. Our friendly intake staff will listen to the facts of your case for a no-cost, no-obligation evaluation.

Call our offices today at (916) 777-7777