After just about any motor vehicle accident there is one important question that is asked just about every time: who is liable in this accident? As many of our Pennsylvania readers already know, if the crash was between two personal vehicles, the answer could be that one or both drivers are at fault. If the accident involved a commercial vehicle then the driver or company for whom they work could be held liable. But in some cases, an automotive defect can be to blame, meaning the car manufacturer is held accountable.
But while it might be easy to assign liability with our current set of laws, this might be trickier with self-driving cars. To a certain extent we’re already familiar with autonomous vehicles that allow us to do everything from automatic parallel parking to automatic breaking to avoid an accident. If these systems fail, it’s generally considered a case of products liability. Though self-driving cars may fall under the same area of law, some specific situations could create problems the general public and insurance companies might be prepared for.
Who is held liable if a self-driving vehicle is carrying an intoxicated person? Because this “driver” started the vehicle, would our current laws consider this drunk driving? Would it still be considered negligent driving?
Google’s first self-driving car prototype is also raising other liability concerns. Because this particular prototype does not come equipped with a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals, some have questioned how vehicle occupants will take control of the vehicle in the event of system failures. What if a computer hacker breaks into the navigation system and causes the self-driving car to crash? Is the vehicle’s owner potentially liable? How will insurance policies cover this issue?
Getting answers to these questions before self-driving cars hit the market will be key towards avoiding potentially problematic litigation later on. Whether lawmakers will consider this as important however remains to be seen.