Collision Course: Legal Ramifications of Autonomous Vehicle Accidents

Collision Course: Legal Ramifications of Autonomous Vehicle Accidents

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to drastically change the world of transportation. They will revolutionize how we get from place to place, reduce traffic congestion and accidents, and improve road safety. No wonder the driverless car’s market size is increasing exponentially.
According to Mordor Intelligence, the size of the US autonomous car market is estimated to be $12.27 billion in 2023. It is expected to reach $31.17 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 20.50% till 2028. However, many unanswered questions remain about how autonomous vehicles will impact our laws and regulations.
In this article, we will explore the legal ramifications of autonomous car accidents in more detail.

What Are Autonomous Cars?

Autonomous vehicles, or AVs, are cars that can drive themselves. They use sensors and software to navigate their environment and avoid collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians. Some semi-AVs can drive themselves but have human drivers inside to monitor them. The technology is still in its infancy but is progressing rapidly toward commercial use.

According to an American Journal of Comparative Law article, experts support autonomous vehicles on public roadways. The reason is that they are expected to result in as much as an 80% to 90% decrease in accidents. These estimates take into account that over 40% of fatal crashes take place due to alcohol, drug consumption, distraction, or tiredness.

In fact, a lot of research is currently ongoing in this field. Most researchers aim to improve the car’s ability to accurately detect motion in the surrounding environment. For instance, Nathan Jacobs, a professor at a private university in St. Louis, has developed a learning framework for autonomous driving.
While autonomous cars may soon be able to navigate highways without human intervention, they can’t yet drive safely through city traffic. This fact has serious implications for liability when an AV causes an accident.
Multiple parties are involved here: the semi-AV driver, the other vehicle’s driver, the car’s manufacturer, the car’s retailer, etc. Hence, it becomes challenging to determine who’s at fault here.

Autonomous Car Accident Examples

One of the most high-profile incidents involved an Uber self-driving car that struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The vehicle failed to detect the pedestrian, and the safety driver behind the wheel was not paying attention. After five years of limbo, the autonomous car driver was charged for the accident, according to a Wired article.
Similarly, several accidents involving Tesla vehicles in Autopilot mode have been reported. In some cases, drivers may have overestimated the capabilities of the Autopilot system or misunderstood its limitations. Tesla continuously updates its Autopilot software, aiming to improve safety and performance.
Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car subsidiary, experienced a collision involving one of its autonomous minivans in Arizona. In this case, the self-driving car was not at fault; a human manually drove it, and the collision occurred at an intersection.

Legal Framework

While autonomous vehicles are still in their infancy, it’s important to understand the legal framework around them. Autonomous vehicle accidents are not covered by existing tort law. This means there is no liability in the event of an accident, at least not yet.
The laws regarding liability for accidents involving autonomous vehicles vary greatly between countries. However, most countries have adopted similar approaches when dealing with liability issues related to AVs:

In some places (like California), there is no clear consensus on who should be held responsible when a crash occurs.

In others (like Arizona), only human drivers can be held accountable if they’re found at fault during testing stages. But eventually, companies could share responsibility with them once the testing phases end.

Still, other states require companies developing these technologies to submit reports detailing how they plan to protect consumers’ safety.

As stated in a Lifewire article, Missouri is one of the states with no specific laws related to autonomous cars. So, there is no prohibition against their usage. Hence, it is vital to seek help from an experienced attorney for such cases in such places.

According to TorHoerman Law, the faster you get an attorney, the sooner you can initiate the legal process. The lawyer can help you navigate the complicated legal process.
Since the regulations around autonomous vehicle accidents can differ from place to place, it is best to hire a local attorney. Consider the example of St. Louis, Missouri. Since Missouri has no specific laws, the lawyer needs to work with law enforcement officers to get you justice. Hence, hiring a car accident lawyer in St. Louis will be a wise choice here.

Who Is Liable for Autonomous Car Accidents?

The owner of the autonomous car may be held liable if they fail to maintain the vehicle properly. The manufacturer and software developer of the vehicle could also be held liable. This is if there is evidence that they knew about defects in their product but failed to take appropriate steps to address them.
In addition to these parties, you may also have grounds for a claim against any other person who was involved in causing your injuries. For example, if another driver was distracted by a phone call or text message when they struck your car, you could sue him/her directly. This was the case with the Uber accident in Tempe, Arizona. The driver pleaded guilty and admitted distraction being the cause of the crash.

Future Trends and Challenges

The future of autonomous vehicles is bright. Continued improvements in artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms enhance autonomous vehicles’ perception, decision-making, and control systems.

Developments in sensor technology, including lidar, radar, and cameras, contribute to better detection and understanding of the vehicle’s environment. Increased connectivity between vehicles (V2V) and infrastructure (V2I) allows for real-time communication, enabling better coordination and traffic management.

However, there are still some challenges to overcome before everyone can enjoy their benefits. In the United States, there are no federal regulations governing the operation of driverless cars yet. However, states like California and Nevada have begun drafting their own rules on licensing, insurance, and liability issues related to self-driving cars.

As covered in a news article from Landline. media, a Missouri lawmaker wanted to stop driverless trucks from operating around the state. The bill, HB2059, stated the requirement of a trained person inside the vehicle. OOIDA backed this bill, with support from around 7,800 members who commute through the national highways daily.

Another major challenge with AVs is technical malfunctions. Handling complex and dynamic environments, adverse weather conditions, and edge cases are ongoing technical challenges for autonomous vehicle systems.

To sum up, the future of autonomous vehicles is exciting and full of potential. However, it also poses many questions about the legal ramifications of accidents. This blog post has outlined some of these issues and what they mean for the future of AVs on our roads.


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