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What Happens If You’re in an Accident With a Driverless Car?

Driverless Cars and Liability Issues

In October 2018, Pennsylvania authorized a driverless car manufacturer to begin testing vehicles on roads throughout the state. Though a more universal acceptance of self-driving cars is still some years in the future, it’s worth remembering that technology moves fast, and accidents involving these vehicles are a real possibility. If you or a loved one is injured in an accident involving a driverless car, a Philadelphia injury lawyer will be the most equipped to advise you about attendant liability issues.

What Are Driverless Cars?

Driverless cars navigate roadways using artificial intelligence that senses the environment around the car through a combination of sensors, cameras and radar. Little or no human participation is involved in the process. A General Motors exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair featured an electrically powered vehicle that was guided by electromagnetic radio fields, which responded to magnetic spikes strategically scattered throughout a roadway; this was probably the first self-driving car. The first true prototype, however, was most likely one of the vehicles associated with Google's Waymo project, which debuted in 2014. These Waymo vehicles were built without steering wheels, gas pedals or brake pedals. For the most part, though, Google doesn’t build cars; instead, it provides driverless technology to existing automobile manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Tesla, Volkswagen and Volvo. Self-driving shuttles are already a reality in airports in Detroit and Columbus, but these vehicles traverse routes that are seldom longer than a mile or two. Despite enthusiastic proclamations from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, most experts believe that it will be several decades before self-driving cars are a common sight along American highways. What’s holding back their adoption? For one thing, the technology isn’t quite ready for prime time. More importantly, though, the public perception is that driverless cars, however sophisticated, aren’t really as safe as automobiles commandeered by human drivers.

Are Driverless Cars Safe?

The first known death involving a self-driving car took place in Tempe, Arizona, on March 18, 2018, when a Volvo sport utility vehicle powered by Uber driverless technology struck a pedestrian who was walking her bicycle across a street at night. The human operator who was supposed to act as a safeguard to such events was streaming a video on her smartphone. Investigators later concluded that the accident wouldn’t have taken place had the human operator not been distracted in this manner. Nevertheless, Arizona criminal prosecutors declined to bring charges against Uber or the operator. To date, there have been approximately 100 accidents throughout the nation involving self-driving cars. When the news site Axios studied vehicle incident reports from California that involved self-driving cars, it found that humans caused the majority of the accidents. Only six of the 19 incidents Axios studied were actually caused by self-driving technology.

How Will Driverless Cars Affect Personal Injury Claims?

If driverless cars become common, the new technology is likely to have profound effects on personal injury claims arising from automobile accidents. Currently, most automobile accidents are linked to examples of human carelessness such as distracted driving or driving under the influence, both of which are classified as “negligence” under the law. If an accident takes place when a human driver has overridden the car’s self-driving technology and that accident was due to that human driver’s negligence, then that driver is likely to be the one who can be found liable. The system that’s in place now will function smoothly assuming fault can be proven. If, however, the self-driving technology is controlling the vehicle, the manufacturer or the company that created the equipment or the software algorithms may be held liable. This presents a huge risk to the developers of self-driving cars and may be another reason why their rollout is taking so long. The computerized artificial intelligence that powers these vehicles won’t get drunk or distracted, but software glitches are common, and there is always the possibility of a malware attack. In the meantime, the autonomous vehicle software company Aurora has been testing its prototypes on Pennsylvania roads since 2018. Some experts believe that by 2020, there will be many more self-driving cars on highways throughout the nation. If you or a loved one is involved in an accident with a driverless car or a car with a driver, a Philadelphia injury lawyer is the right person to advise you about the next steps to take. Contact Metzger & Kleiner in Philadelphia today at (215) 567-6616 for more information.

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