With more and more self-driving cars on the road, who should be liable when an accident
occurs? The manufacturer or driver? Please explain
The auto industry has been working on producing autonomously driving vehicles for many years. But despite a fancy name being utilized by automakers, the vehicles are not fully autonomous and will require more engineering to become genuinely self-driving. The selfdriving cars are able to control their own steering and acceleration, yet are not designed to control all the driving while the operator is fully resting and/or sleeping. “There are exactly zero self-driving cars available for purchase, anywhere in the world today, from any manufacturer,” says Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights.
I believe that the driver is ultimately responsible for operating their vehicle despite of it being labeled as a self-driving motor vehicle. The only exception would be if a car accident involves a product defect caused by the manufacturer’s negligence, which was the direct cause
of the accident. For that reason the vehicle should pass multiple inspection checklists in manufacturing safety, as well as a vigorous testing routine prior to being released to the public. Moreover, any recalls or defects discovered after the sale of the vehicle must be publically announced and replaced with the costs covered by the manufacturer. Breaching any of the above duties could lead to the manufacturer’s liability for an accident.
Many states have implemented certain regulations for self-driving vehicles. Vehicle manufacturing companies must strictly abide by their state safety regulations when designing, and building the motor vehicle in order to avoid being liable for damages attributed to
negligence. The concept of strict liability applies in the case of a car containing a design, manufacturing or marketing defect which served as the main reason or cause of the motor
vehicle accident. Strict liability does not require an opposing party to prove that negligence has occurred.
Another point to consider is that apparently, the software utilized in the self-driving cars is produced by the totally separate companies than the ones designing the vehicles. The flaw in the soft-ware design can easily result in creating an auto accident. Other times, a glitch in the
software creation or an unpredictable failure of a system to complete its function, not detected at the time of the software testing, could be the cause of the accident. In this case the designer or manufacturer of the equipment could be found liable for damages due to not detecting the error before-hand during the testing of the software. One of such examples would be the system failing to recognize an oncoming vehicle or hazard, causing the driver to collide with another car or barrier.
Moreover, an accident with a self-driving car might be completely irrelevant to the fault of the autonomous vehicle. It might be a result of a careless and negligent third party driver. If the letter was speeding, running a red light or simple driving recklessly, they would be found at fault.
Lastly, the owner of a self-driving car is held liable when operating the vehicle in a reckless and negligent manner or ignoring the warnings given by the vehicle operating system.
Therefore, the answer will vary depending on the case, the vehicle, and vehicle manufacturing process, its software and the surrounding circumstances, such as the driver and the third party actions. All these multiple factors must be examined and carefully considered when deciding who is to blame in an auto accident the driver or vehicle manufacturer.
- Davolo, Antonio. A Model for Tort Liability in a World of Driverless Cars: Establishing a Framework for the Upcoming Technology. Idaho Law Review. Vol 54, No 3, 2018, pp. 23-43.
- Wansley, Matthew. The End of Accidents. 55 U.C. Davis Law Review 269, 2021, pp.1-60.