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If an Autonomous Car Causes an Accident, Who is to Blame?

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Autonomous cars are heralded as the Next Big Thing – for transportation and for vehicle safety. Most accidents result from human error, and autonomous vehicles take the human out of the equation. But if an autonomous car does cause a car accident – rare though those might be – who is responsible?

According to Nashville Metro Council member Robert Swope, 1.5 million people die in car accidents every year. Of those, 90 percent result from human error. Should these cars, which some see as an inevitable sight on our roads, become widespread, not only could millions of lives be saved, but our transportation system could be revolutionized. Instead of spending upwards of $8.5 billion on something like light rail (though also important), a network of autonomous cars could provide much-needed assistance to our mass transit system.

But what happens if you are injured by one of these vehicles?

Liability in Autonomous Car Accidents

Liability for accidents caused by autonomous vehicles is a developing field of law. Traditionally speaking, a plaintiff in a motor vehicle accident would be able to blame the driver or the car manufacturer that caused the crash. With autonomous vehicle, however, the blame could shift elsewhere. As a victim in an autonomous car crash, you could have four potential avenues to pursue.

  1. The operator of the vehicle is at fault. Most autonomous vehicles allow for some form of control of the vehicle, but even in accidents with fully-autonomous cars, some states have said that the operator is the person who engaged the autonomous technology. Whether this claim will pin the blame on a person or not depends on the vehicle’s level of automation.
  2. The car manufacturer is at fault. If something went wrong during manufacturing that led to an accident, you could seek damages from the manufacturer.
  3. The company that created the finished product is at fault.
  4. The company that developed the autonomous car technology, such as software or sensor systems, is at fault.

Transportation may look very different in ten or 20 years thanks to self-driving cars, but regardless of their novelty, you still have rights if you are injured in an accident.

Psalm 34:18, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

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