Liability and Safety Issues in Self-Driving Cars

  • Self-driving cars, also called autonomous vehicles (AVs), are on the way to becoming more common on our streets. They can potentially reduce the incidence of crashes, thereby saving lives. Since they are a new phenomenon, there are many unanswered questions relating to liability and safety issues. The hope is that when all the questions are answered, and the laws put into place, the rate of injuries will decline, and more lives will be saved since autonomous cars do not make human errors. In the future, traffic jams would never occur as traffic lights would be unnecessary. There are basically five levels of automation going from zero automation to full driving automation where the vehicle performs all safety driving functions and monitors road conditions for an entire trip.

    Determining who would be liable in an accident is up for debate. It may be the passenger, owner or manufacturer, or any combination of the three. Some states, such as California and Nevada, have stipulated that the vehicle operator is liable. The operator is defined as the person who causes the technology to engage since there is no driver. However, it is generally thought that as AV use increases, manufacturers will likely be held liable in the future. In this type of scenario, the no-fault insurance system would likely be the best since it is not dependent on identifying an at-fault party and compensation is awarded relatively quickly.\


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