Last updated on May 10th, 2022
You’ve likely been hearing a lot about vehicles that fall under this broad description lately. In April alone, we learned that General Motors (GM) had filed for a patent on an autonomous vehicle that would replace human driving instructors, the UK indicated that operators of self-driving cars would be allowed to watch television while at the wheel, and a US billionaire announced that he was running for Congress to “make computers safe for humanity.” Task one, he said, would be to keep “full self-driving” Teslas off the road.
If you’re uncertain about the status of self-driving cars – legally and practically – you’re far from alone. Part of the reason for the uncertainty is that self-driving cars are still under development, and that term is widely used to describe both fully autonomous vehicles and cars with self-driving features.
One significant question on many people’s minds is “Who is responsible if I’m injured in a self-driving car accident?”
Ohio has been ahead of the curve on self-driving vehicles for years. The state’s Drive Ohio initiative is “committed to advancing smart mobility in Ohio and being a one-stop shop for those looking to develop, test and deploy advanced mobility solutions in Ohio.” As early as 2016, the state was involved in testing self-driving tractor trailers, and in 2020 autonomous tractor trailers took a test run from Pittsburgh to Detroit using the Ohio Turnpike.
Back in 2018, the city launched a pilot program to provide a driverless public transportation shuttle. After that pilot concluded, another launched, taking the self-driving transport vehicle into a residential neighborhood. The second pilot program was suspended after a relatively minor incident involving the vehicle stopping suddenly. Then, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the city shifted its purpose and put the autonomous vehicles to work delivering food. Between July of 2020 and April of 2021, the program delivered 3,598 food pantry boxes, containing about 130,000 meals.
Self-driving cars are touted as being much safer than vehicles operated by humans. Or, at least, that’s the ultimate goal. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says autonomous features will offer greater crash avoidance, due to enhanced detection and quicker response time.
But, you’ve undoubtedly heard about enough self-driving cars to recognize that the systems haven’t fully been perfected–and will likely never be perfect. The Columbus shuttle accident mentioned above was relatively minor. The vehicle stopped abruptly, and a passenger was knocked from the seat to the floor. After a thorough investigation, it was determined that warning passengers about the possibility of abrupt stops was a sufficient protective measure. But, the vehicle was traveling at just over 7 miles per hour. Obviously, that sort of event at higher speeds and in traffic could be much more dangerous.
Some high-profile autonomous vehicle accidents include:
As the examples above illustrate, it’s common for two or more factors to contribute to a self-driving car accident. Often, that means there may be more than one responsible party. This is especially true now, since cars are generally not fully autonomous and the operator is responsible for monitoring the situation and taking control of the vehicle as needed.
Possible responsible parties in a self-driving car accident may include:
As of today, there isn’t much established law relating specifically to self-driving car accidents, in Ohio or around the country. That may change as self-driving vehicles become more fully autonomous and become more common on the road. For the moment, liability is determined much as it would be in any other car accident. That means liability will typically be based in negligence, product liability, or a mix of the two.
Identifying responsible parties and building a case can be complicated even in a traditional car accident case, and those complications may be more significant when relatively new technology is in play. The best way to assess who may be responsible for your injuries in a self-driving car accident and how to build the most effective case is to speak with an experienced Ohio motor vehicle accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident.
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