Who is Liable for Self-Driving Car Accidents?
One of the most exciting technological innovations on the horizon is the self-driving car. Tech giants Tesla and Google are leading the industry in developing self-driving car technology. While the ultimate goal of self-driving cars is safer, more efficient travel, there are legitimate concerns about liability issues in accidents with self-driving cars.
If a self-driving car causes an accident, who is to blame? One could argue that the manufacturer should assume responsibility for any damages their products cause, but it is not reasonable to expect manufacturers to account for the infinite eventualities that could happen on the road. One could also argue that the driver (or, more specifically, the car owner) is to blame since he or she should have been able to take control of the vehicle and prevent the crash. But this isn’t a reasonable expectation in most circumstances. With these considerations in mind, who is to blame for self-driving car accidents?
Marketing Incurs Liability
Self-driving car manufacturers may claim that drivers must maintain hand control of the self-driving car’s steering wheel, even during automatic driving, or that some on-the-road scenarios are too unpredictable or rare to properly program cars to respond to them. Nevertheless, the obvious answer to the self-driving car accident liability question is that the car manufacturer would be liable for the damages.
Since self-driving car manufacturers market these vehicles as an alternative to human driving, it stands to reason that a human riding in a self-driving car (even in the driver’s seat) should not be liable for the car failing to avoid a crash. The manufacturer designed the vehicle to operate more safely than a human driver, so it follows that the manufacturer should bear the liability for accidents caused by their cars.
Product manufacturers have a duty to ensure their products perform as intended and pose no unreasonable risks to consumers through normal use. Presently, car manufacturers are not liable for the vast majority of car accidents because they happen due to driver error. When defects cause accidents, manufacturers must recall the affected products to prevent further injury to consumers and potentially face lawsuits under product liability laws. Manufacturers must also accurately and honestly market their products, so touting self-driving cars as a safer alternative to human driving is a de facto assumption of liability for accidents.
Manufacturers Aren’t Trying to Skirt Liability
It seems ironic that car manufacturers creating self-driving cars with the intention of making roadways safer would lead to greater liability for manufacturers instead of being recognized for the accidents their cars prevent. If they sustain large losses due to liability issues, it would deter innovation and diminish public interest in pursuing self-driving car technology. However, many car manufacturers such as Google, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz have pledged to accept full liability if their self-driving cars cause accidents.
Ultimately, manufacturers assuming liability for accidents is the wiser choice. If liability is inevitable, it is far more beneficial to work toward mitigating public concerns about self-driving cars and encouraging innovation and improvement of existing technologies. Many Americans report that they are not convinced self-driving cars are safe, and changing this mentality is crucial to the future success of the self-driving car market.
Self-driving cars have the potential to save thousands of lives lost in collisions every year. If manufacturers assume full liability for the accidents their vehicles cause, then this would naturally lead to initial cost for self-driving cars. However, since liability rests with the manufacturer, self-driving cars would become much cheaper to insure. The extra cost of the car would be easily offset by lower insurance premiums and could encourage more people to investigate self-driving cars in the future.