Self-driving cars could create legal nightmares when they crash

After a car accident in Colorado, the driver who was responsible for causing the collision is normally considered legally liable. But what would happen if there was no human at the wheel of a car that causes an accident?

This is an issue that courts and lawmakers will confront as autonomous cars become a reality. A recent article in The New York Times addressed the issue, indicating that the technology for self-driving vehicles is nearly advanced enough for mainstream use.

Google has been testing its driverless cars, including making the vehicles available to certain public officials and reporters for test rides. BMW and Toyota are also working on cars that will be able to drive themselves.

These self-driving vehicles are supposed to be safer than vehicles driven by people, since the possibility of crashes due to human error is eliminated. Even with promises of safety, no technology is perfect. It is likely that autonomous vehicles will be involved in accidents at some point.

Just four states and Washington D.C. have taken action to pass laws specific to driverless cars, but these laws are limited. In fact, some state laws simply establish that it is legal for manufacturers to test the self-driving vehicles. No state has provided legal answers about who is responsible for accidents caused by robots.

Although the laws will need to be refined over time, existing tort law provides guidance on what is likely to occur. Manufacturers may already be held responsible under product liability laws when an item that they sell malfunctions and causes harm.

Since a driverless car that causes a crash could be said to have malfunctioned in a way that caused injury or death, these same product liability laws could apply to hold vehicle manufacturers responsible for accidents in self-driving autos.

Because driverless vehicles are equipped with video and with other data recorders, it could actually be easier to make injury claims after a collision because there will be a recording of exactly what went wrong. The victim of a collision could obtain this video and use it to show that the driverless car operated in a dangerous way and resulted in a deadly accident or in serious injuries.

Since driverless cars have not yet caused any known injuries or deaths, the issue of responsibility remains a theoretical question. When the first accident happens, the outcome of the case will help shape the future of the autonomous car industry, as well as having an important impact on the rights of car accident victims nationwide.

Contact Our Colorado Car Accident Law Firm

Attorney Steve Ray is a former Marine Corps judge now fights for the rights of accident victims in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado. If you have been seriously injured in a car accident, he brings more than 35 years of legal experience and military discipline to pursuing your claim for compensation.

He will meet with you to discuss your case and, if a claim is possible, pursue the maximum financial recovery available. If we cannot recover money for you, you will pay nothing for our legal services.

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