Autonomous, or self-driving, cars are one of the hottest luxury items around. Advocates say they’re the future of transportation and could make driving much safer by removing human error. But according to a recent report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, they may not be as safe as is claimed. They may, in fact, be hazardous. 

self driving car accident seattle

The NHTSA report covers the ten-month period from July 2021 to May 2022. It found there were almost four hundred crashes nationwide involving vehicles equipped with “partially automated driver assist systems.” That technology is a far cry from a car that’s fully self-driving. However, at least some autonomous vehicle companies don’t limit their claims. Of the nearly 400 accidents, 273 included Teslas, and Tesla labels its driver assist system “Full Self Driving.” When a company makes the kind of claim a name like that implies, people may use the system that way. So, if you’re hit by a person using such a system, who’s responsible?

distracted driver in self driving car

Right now, all road-legal ‘autonomous’ vehicles still require a driver who can take control at any time. If someone’s behind the wheel fiddling with their phone and hits someone, they’d be at-fault. But what if the vehicle just shoots through an intersection on its own and hits another car? Then liability could rest on the car manufacturer or the company that programmed the driver-assist software. An autonomous vehicle must make split-second decisions based on information provided by the vehicle’s equipment. Any software or mechanical failure means determining liability can be a serious challenge.

If your accident was due to driver error, your first step would be to file a claim with the driver’s insurance. But if there was a mechanical defect, or if an active driver-assist system might have affected the crash, you may need to file against a major auto manufacturer. Some might offer a settlement to avoid word getting out that their new technology is dangerous. But when there are questions of liability, having a good car accident lawyer working for you is essential.

legal team researching

As you recover, an experienced, knowledgeable auto accident attorney will investigate every avenue when it comes to liability. They’ll talk to witnesses and review any video footage. They’ll also hire experts to evaluate the crash data in the vehicle’s computer. This can show if the driver assist feature turned off right before impact or if there were any issues with sudden acceleration, both problems facing autonomous vehicles. If your case goes to trial, they’ll show how corporate promises don’t lessen a driver’s negligence for misusing their vehicle. And if the suit is against a car manufacturer, they’ll show the jury how corporate negligence matters just as much as that of any individual driver. They’ll argue accountability for releasing a dangerous product onto the streets.

We’re entering uncharted waters in terms of how the law oversees autonomous vehicles. An accident with a car and no driver would be terrifying. If this happens to you, or if you’re hit by any driver, consider talking to an attorney before deciding what to do. Give us a call at Park Chenaur – we’re always here to help you get the justice you deserve.

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