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The law & autonomous driving in California

As self-driving cars become more common on California roads, so does the increase in car accident numbers involving autonomous vehicles. Unfortunately, when one of these vehicles gets into an accident, and someone gets injured, there’s the legal quagmire of who’s responsible. The car with no driver or the company that manufactured the car.

A few considerations

The details of the car accident must be carefully reviewed.

  • Was the driver using the autonomous feature at the time of the accident?
  • Can we assess reasonable evidence under the law for a damage claim under product liability?
  • Was the driver operating the autonomous vehicle partially at fault?
  • Was the driverless vehicle safe?

If anyone gets hurt or killed in one of these accidents, there is the possibility of filing a wrongful death suit.

Who is responsible?

Generally, the law determines car accident liability based on negligence. Motorists have a duty of care to look out for pedestrians and other drivers.

Fault can land on multiple parties. If determined one or more persons or even groups play a part, a jury or judge may base an award on a percentage of the blame. It’s not unusual for these matters to spread the responsibility across all parties, including the injured based on the state’s “comparative fault” laws.

In California, an operator is anyone “seated in the driver’s seat, or, if there is no person in the driver’s seat, causes the autonomous technology to engage.” Most driverless vehicle accidents have a human in the car, often behind the wheel. They use pilot programs that require operators to take immediate control in case of an emergency. Should a driver be unprepared to take control, that individual may be accountable. If they take control and do anything to cause the accident, said driver may be legally responsible.

Regardless of its driverless features, the rules of the road still apply. Speeding, failure to yield or stop at a traffic signal or sign, road rage, drunk driving, and other accident influences play a factor in autonomous driving accidents.

The law also enforces the idea that anyone who designs, manufactures, or sells a faulty product is liable for any accidents or injuries that the product causes. That means injured parties do not have to show company negligence. As plaintiffs, they only need to show the faulty product was the cause of the accident.