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Self-Driving Cars: Who Is Responsible?

Driverless car
One of Google’s self-driving cars. Photo by Wikipedia.

The aftermath of a car accident is never easy.

Bills have to be paid, police reports have to be filed, injuries have to be treated, and settlements have to be negotiated. But one fact most people have taken for granted is that the other driver is a person.

What happens if a self-driving car causes an accident?

The Future Is Now

Self-driving cars aren’t just an idea anymore; they’re a reality, and they’re not all the same.

Google’s fleet of marshmallow-like vehicles ditched the steering wheel altogether and drives a timid 25 miles per hour to get you to your local appointments. Uber’s driverless cars have rolled onto highways with a giant red button to allow a human to take control if the car gets confused.

Although you probably won’t be picking one up from the dealership for at least another 15 to 20 years, you might find yourself driving behind a test version on your way home from work tonight.

When it comes to self-driving cars, the possibilities seem endless.

Many believe that driverless cars will give independence and freedom to the elderly and disabled. Since 90 percent of all crashes are due to human error, many are also projecting that driverless cars will save millions of lives annually.

But no system is flawless. Accidents happen, and accidents will continue to happen even after self-driving cars take over the streets. The question remains: Who do you hold responsible for a car accident involving a self-driving car?

Product Liability

If you cause an accident and happen to drive a Toyota, you can’t sue Toyota for selling you a perfectly good car that you crashed due to human error.

However, if Toyota sells you a car with faulty brakes, you can hold Toyota liable for your accident.

Self-driving cars will change the game when it comes to car insurance and product liability. If a self-driving car hits you, there may not be a driver to hold responsible, but you may be able to hold responsible one of the companies that created the driverless car.

However, to keep manufacturing companies from going out of business, there may be legislation designed to protect companies and cap how much they have to pay to car accident victims.

moral-questions-driverless-car-accidentsMoral Questions

Already, moral questions are cropping up when it comes to designing driverless cars.

For example: One day, you are in your self-driving car when it swerves to avoid a pedestrian and you hit a brick wall, suffering severe injuries. The manufacturer may argue that it is not at fault because the driverless car is programmed to save pedestrian lives at all costs, and you knew this when you purchased the vehicle.

Self-driving cars present a lot of possibilities, but they also present problems, especially for personal injury cases. Hopefully, the government will pass laws to protect passengers and make certain that manufacturers pay for damages when their automated systems fail.