Injury Liability and the Driverless Car

Sometimes the law takes a while to catch up to emerging technology. This is especially true where new inventions radically change the world in which we live. One such invention, the driverless (or self-driving) car, is not ripe for public consumption yet, but it is still fun to think about what the issues may be in automobile accident injury lawsuits if and when such a car becomes mainstream.

Driverless Car in an Accident

Recently, Google’s self-driving car prototype suffered a minor incident when it hit a bus. According to Google, the incident occurred when the car attempted to evade some sandbags obstructing the road. The collision occurred at under 15 miles per hour.

Google has since stated that it will be altering its software to recognize that buses and other large vehicle may be less likely to yield than other vehicles. In six years of testing and 17 million miles, Google states that its vehicles have only been involved in 17 minor accidents.

The incident raises the question of who would be (or will be) at fault when these cars are all over the roads, and when they cause injury due to an accident.

Who Would Be at Fault?

Many states, such as California, have attempted to pass legislation requiring that every driverless car have an available driver in the car, with the ability to override the automation of the car. If this were the case, then the passenger in the driverless vehicle may be just as liable for failing to prevent the automated car from getting into an accident as a driver of a normal car would be today.

If the cars are truly automated, with no human intervention, and they injure someone, who would be responsible? It is highly unlikely that a company like Google would put driverless cars on the road and assume responsibility for every injury that they may cause. The only way for Google to be protected, may be through state legislation making it impossible to sue Google.

Legislation Immunizing Car Makers

The initial reaction to such legislation may be negative. But there is a tradeoff to be considered.

Google (or whomever ends up selling these cars) can always opt not to sell its cars in a state that does not provide them lawsuit protection. If a state wants to allow its citizens to have access to driverless cars, it may have no choice but to concede to whatever protections Google may want.

Google’s ability to push such legislation may depend on the ultimate results of its testing. If google can show its cars are in accidents significantly less than other cars, a state may take the trade-off, providing immunity to Google. Alternatively, we may find insurance selling lines of protection in the event someone is injured by a driverless car, an insurance product that insurance companies may like if the test results for the driverless car show very few accidents.

The law of personal injury lawsuits is always changing. Speak with attorneys who understand the ins and outs of automobile accidents. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss getting reparation for your injuries.