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Driverless Cars – Who Is Liable?

Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers weigh in on driverless car liabilty in car accidents. Autonomous vehicles will soon be regularly driving through the streets of major cities. By 2020, it is estimated that as many as 10 million vehicles will be on the road with some level of driverless capacity. Who will be responsible when a collision or other accident occurs involving one or more automated vehicles?

Most drivers today rely on automobile liability insurance to pay for damages if they cause a collision. If computers are operating your vehicle do you still need to worry about being held responsible for a crash?

The National Highway Safety Administration has identified five levels of an automated driving system.  Levels 0 – 2 involve a human driver that monitors the road; Levels 3 – 5 involve an automated driving system that monitors the road.  The levels breakdown as follows:

  • Level 0 – No automation – Today most cars on the road are in this category.  The car may have some automated alerts such as lane-departure warnings or blind spot monitoring  but the driver controls the vehicle.
  • Level 1 – Function-specific automation – these are vehicles with one or more automated features that can affect the impact of a crash. They can handle one automatic task at a time such as steering and brake assist.
  • Level 2 – Combined-function automation – These vehicles have automated interconnected features that take control of your vehicle in certain situations. A car with cruise control and lane centering technology can steer and maintain the speed of the vehicle on the roadway.
  • Level 3 – Limited self-driving automation – These vehicles can take over all aspects of driving but they alert the driver to resume control if there is a dangerous situation.
  • Level 4 – Fully self-driving vehicles are completely driverless in certain environments. The driver becomes a passenger.  These vehicles are not yet available to the public.
  • Level 5 – Vehicles can operate on their own without any driver present.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has reported that the widespread use of automated vehicles is likely to reduce crash rates by more than 50%. The argument in favor of the technology is that these cars could save lives by eliminating human error. However, the role of fault in a collision would likely no longer automatically fall to those humans in the vehicle. Should the blame be shifted to the manufacturers and software engineers that created the driverless vehicles? Will insurance companies refuse to pay claims involving driverless vehicles?

Regardless of the manufacturers position, liability laws are likely to change as more accidents involve only computers.

For more information, call our experienced personal injury lawyers at Williams Cedar at 215-557-0099 or 856-470-9777 or submit an online inquiry.

By Beth Cole