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Who is responsible for driverless vehicle accidents?

Self-driving or driverless vehicles are the future. It may sound exciting and convenient, but records show that autonomous vehicle accidents happen with the same frequency as accidents with a driver in full control of the car.

If you’re involved in an accident involving a driverless car, you have the right to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer or the “driver” for damages. As in any legal matter involving the road, you will have to prove the self-driving car caused the accident. Moreover, if there is a driver in a vehicle operating on autopilot, you can levy responsibility on that driver.

Who is at fault when one of the vehicles is driverless?

In California, the law states anyone who activates autonomous technology is as responsible for an accident as a driver behind the wheel. 

The state’s Vehicle Code 38750 requires autonomous vehicles to have a safety alert system to warn the driver of an imminent accident. The driver must always maintain a level of alertness and be ready to take control of the brakes, accelerator, and steering wheel whenever necessary.

What will a court consider?

Judgments about car accidents and their repercussions are usually based on degrees of negligence. Motorists are responsible for a duty of care when driving, and accidents indicate a failure to use reasonable care. In a lawsuit, a plaintiff needs to prove that:

  • The plaintiff was owed a duty of care
  • The defendant was neglectful in their duty of care
  • Negligence was a significant influence on the cause of the accident and harm

In other words, the driver of an autonomous vehicle has the same level of responsibility as the human behind the wheel and can be held legally accountable for an accident.

When is the car manufacturer liable for an accident?

Autonomous car incidents are happening with increased frequency. Arguments from manufacturers include system failures and software bugs. There have also been reports where drivers were unable to take control of the vehicle.

Driverless systems use cameras, radar, motion sensors, and powerful applications to control speed, steering, and braking. California’s liability laws state if a car manufacturer built a defective product, they are liable. 

Plaintiffs will have to show the car was defective and dangerous, and this resulted in the accident. In cases of autonomous vehicle accidents, plaintiffs can sue for the same things under regular car accident cases. A plaintiff may even be eligible for punitive damages.