Accidents With Self-Driving Cars: Know Your Rights

Published on 01/04/2023 by Monica Burneikis

The idea behind self-driving cars is appealing, but it also comes with significant risks to others. For example, what happens if you are involved in an auto accident with a self-driving car? Fortunately, the law is on your side. 

California has more laws and regulations regarding self-driving and autonomous vehicles than any other state.  Citizens need to know about their rights and what to do if they are involved in an accident with a self-driving car.

Self-Driving Cars & Personal Injury Lawsuits

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently reviewing the nearly 400 crashes that occurred as the result of partially-automated driver-assist vehicles over the past year. More than half of those accidents involved Tesla models. However, NHTSA warns that comparing manufacturers is not an accurate means of assessing these crashes because the statistics have not been adjusted for relevant factors like how many of the manufacturer’s vehicles use the system or how many miles the vehicles have traveled.

However, as you can imagine, victims involved in self-driving car accidents can feel more inflamed than those involved with a car actively driven and controlled by another human. 

Victims Have The Right To Pursue A Personal Injury Lawsuit

Of the nearly 400 self-driving car accidents reported in the past year, five resulted in fatalities, and six serious injuries were reported. One of the fatalities was a jay-walking pedestrian that went unnoticed by the self-driving car’s sensory system. These victims all have the right to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. However, accountability for these accidents may vary, depending on the situation.

Here are some of the considerations used to determine who is at fault when pursuing a personal injury lawsuit after an accident with a self-driving car:

Was the driver using the self-driving cars feature in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions?

Manufacturers of cars with self-driving features are very honest about the newness of the technology, acknowledging the features are basic and flawed. As a result, manufacturers are clear that drivers need to remain alert and pay attention. In fact, self-driving is not an accurate term, as most people agree that cars offer more hands-free options, but require regular driver intervention.

As a result, if the driver of the vehicle was reading, on their phone, sleeping, or obviously distracted - they will most likely bear all or the majority of fault for an accident.

Did the technology fail?

If the driver was being responsible and attentive, but a self-driving feature was flawed or failed, such as in the case of a software malfunction, the lawsuit will be directed away from the driver. In that case, the manufacturer will be pursued.

Was it a combination of factors?

In many cases, car accident claims involving a self-driving or autonomous vehicle involve shared fault. For example, you may be speeding when the driverless car did not brake in time. Or, maybe the accident report concludes the self-driving car driver was not paying attention, but the vehicle’s airbags did not deploy as they should have. In this case, the vehicle’s manufacturer may be partially to blame for the extent of the injuries experienced as a result of the accident. In cases of shared fault, lawyers and insurance specialists work together to determine the percentage of blame - and settlements or judgments are divided accordingly.

What About Self-Driving Semis?

In addition to self-driving cars, drivers can soon expect to share roads and highways with self-driving 18-wheelers. According to an October 2022 issue of Entrepreneur, the autonomous driving technology company Waymo and Daimler Company recently joined together to test the viability of computer-controlled 18-wheelers. Currently, these semi-trucks are running routes in Texas and Arizona. 

These trucks are still in the testing phase; paid humans are “at the wheel” and paying attention to correct any issues before they result in an accident. Even so, the writing is on the wall; soon, there will be large, self-driving delivery trucks on the roads. This concerns some drivers as accidents with an 18-wheeler are statistically more dangerous than collisions with smaller vehicles.

The article reports, “many drivers are finding the increasing prevalence of self-driving vehicles unsettling and concerning. According to PolicyAdvice, 43% of Americans are uncomfortable inside a driverless car, citing safety as their chief concern.” And, because trucks are so much larger and more powerful, skepticism surrounding self-driving 18-wheelers is even higher.

What To Do If You Are Involved In An Accident With A Self-Driving Car

For now, the instructions on what to do if you are in an accident with a self-driving car remain the same as in any other accident:

  • Make sure you and other drivers/passengers are safe before getting out of the car.
  • Contact local police (or 9-1-1 if anyone seems injured).
  • Take pictures and videos of everything.
  • Write down or record by video anything people initially say about the accident, like, “I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying attention,” or, “I only looked away for a second.” These initial, honest comments are often the best proof of fault later on.
  • Take down all of the essential details, including driver/passenger contact information, pictures of driver's licenses, registration, insurance, etc.
  • Get witness contact information, as it may be helpful later.
  • Schedule a visit with your physician within 24 hours. The adrenaline and shock of an accident can dull pain or hide signs of injuries. Immediate attention from a physician provides a more accurate assessment of how you are.

Schedule A Consultation With Burneikis Law After A Car Accident

Were you involved in an accident with a self-driving car? Schedule a consultation with Burneikis Law. We will review the accident reports, hear your side of the story, and go over medical records. We also discuss things you may not have thought about, like unpaid time off work and the exponential effect that has on future social security or retirement earnings, etc. 

Support from an experienced accident and personal injury attorney can make a substantial positive impact on your insurance settlement, ensuring you get the compensation you need and deserve.

Monica Burneikis - Oakland Personal Injury Attorney
Monica Burneikis has been an accident and personal injury lawyer for over 15 years. She knows what it takes to fight with insurance companies in order to obtain maximum compensation for injury victims and their families.
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