Will Drivers Be Held Liable for Accidents Involving Autonomous Cars?
Autonomous (self-driving) cars are currently in production, and may become a common means of transportation in future decades. With the introduction of these vehicles comes the question of liability. If an accident occurs, who will be held legally responsible? The driver or the car? This question is becoming one of debate as the popular use of fully automated cars approaches. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has provided 5 classifications of autonomy to help determine who is responsible for a crash.
The 5 categories of autonomy set forth by the NHTSA include:
Level 0 – No Automation. This level refers to the majority of cars people drive today. While some may have automatic alerts for blind spots and lane-departure warnings, the vehicles still require the drivers to have full control at all times.
Level 1 – Function-Specific Automation. This refers to cars that have some automatic features. These are often designed to ease the impact and severity of an accident. Stability control and brake assistance are 2 examples of this type of automation.
Level 2 – Combined-Function Automation. The cars in this category have some automatic features that can completely take over control of the vehicle in certain situations. For example, adaptive cruise control can be used on the highway to maintain speed and lane changes without the driver’s active participation. However, the driver can still take control of the vehicle at any time, and must stay focused on the road to increase safety.
Level 3 – Limited Self-Driving Automation. These cars have the ability to completely control their movements without a driver’s participation. However, if a dangerous situation arises, the car will alert the driver to take control.
Level 4 – Full Self-Driving Automation. In these cars, the drivers have no responsibilities at all. In fact, these cars have the ability to take over complete control for the entire duration of the trip. Not yet available to the public, these cars are truly and fully self-driving.
So Who Is Responsible for a Crash Involving an Autonomous Car?
The determination of who is liable depends on who was in control at the time of the crash. If the driver was in control, then he or she may be held liable. On the other hand, if the car was in control, then common sense says that the car manufacturer would be responsible for the accident. However, this may not be so clear cut.
According to the NHTSA, the autopilot technology in self-driving cars does not take away from the responsibility of drivers. Instead, drivers must stay alert and be ready to react and take control in a dangerous situation. Furthermore, companies of autonomous cars will be resistant to admitting full guilt in every accident. Proving who is responsible for a crash will be difficult, especially with Level 2 and 3 cars that may hand over control to the driver in a certain situations. Looking at the autopilot technology history is essential to determine the fault in an accident, but this would require cooperation from car manufacturers.
Overall, drivers will still need personal insurance liability while driving autonomous cars. Because of the variety of factors necessary to determine fault in a crash, drivers may still be held partially or fully liable for accidents involving self-driving cars. Finding out for sure whether the driver or the car manufacturer is responsible in a crash will pose a struggle for insurance companies and individuals in the future, and time will tell what drivers should expect regarding autonomous cars and accident liability.
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