who is at fault in a self-driving car accident?

The driverless vehicle is no longer science fiction. Fully autonomous vehicles are currently being tested on public roadways.

Yet, one large concern is acting as a roadblock to autonomous vehicles’ progress: liability. Who is at fault in a self-driving car accident? This is a complicated question.

When determining fault in a self-driving car accident, we cannot simply point the finger at one driver or another, as we would in a traditional car accident. Instead, we might point the finger at a technology — a product, rather than a person. This changes the legal standard entirely.

Self-driving car accidents are ultimately product liability claims, which are very different from negligence claims. Manufacturers of autonomous vehicles are likely to be named as defendants in instances where vehicles, not humans, are likely the causes of crashes.

Recent incidents are shaping the issues of fault related to self-driving vehicles. In March 2018, an Uber vehicle operated in autonomous mode killed a pedestrian. In December in 2017 a motorcyclist crashed into a Chevrolet Bolt being driven in self-driving mode.

Both of these cases have raised questions about fault for autonomous vehicle crashes. They also raise issues regarding safety standards.

Not surprisingly, self-driving car manufacturers are seeking government regulation and are urging lawmakers to create policies that grant them immunity in accidents and shield them from fault.

What Causes Self-Driving Cars to Crash?

More often than not, the root cause of a self-driving car crash is not autonomous technology. Rather, human error is the cause. This is not to say that the autonomous technology is fail-proof. It is not. The technology can fail and often has trouble with complex decision-making that, arguably, only the human mind is capable of.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2019, more than 36,000 people were killed as a result of a motor vehicle crashes. It is fair to say that a good portion of these fatalities were the result of some form of human error. However, it is also fair to say that product failure led to a significant portion of these deaths — airbags failed to deploy, brakes did not engage, and fuel tanks were designed poorly.

In order to better understand how self-driving cars work, it is important to explore the different levels of autonomous technology, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). This is an organization that provides the who, what, and when surrounding ever-evolving self-driving technology.

  • Level 1: Driver Assistance. Example: cruise control.
  • Level 2: Partial Automation. Example: vehicle can control speed and steering.
  • Level 3: Conditional Automation. Example: vehicle can drive itself under certain conditions.
  • Level 4: High Automation. Example: vehicle can complete entire journey start to finish.
  • Level 5: Full Automation. Example: driverless cars.

When autonomous technology fails, the product itself fails. Since we are only operating in Level 3 or conditional automation at this point, there is still very much a human component involved in how self-driving cars currently operate.

In the previously referenced example of the 2018 Uber crash, it was argued that the human driver — who was not paying attention at the time of the crash — would not have been able to see the pedestrian in time to react. Actually, the Uber vehicle’s light detection and ranging system (LIDAR) was able to detect the pedestrian in enough time to stop. The problem was that Uber had disabled the vehicle’s automatic braking system. As a result, the vehicle did not stop.

Who Is at Fault When a Crash Involves a Self-Driving Vehicle?

When it comes to self-driving vehicles, fault is fickle. On one hand, self-driving technology is intended to reduce automobile crashes and make the roadways safer for all of us. On the other hand, technologies can fail. Moral dilemmas of complex decision-making will be tough to incorporate into this technology.

In a utopian society, the only way that a self-driving vehicle actually works is if all other vehicles are also self-driving. This is tough sell to the masses and may never actually become a reality.

Even if all vehicles became self-driving or fully autonomous, we would still run the real risk of infrastructure failure due to data breaches or sophisticated computer hacking efforts that could take control of roadways.

For now, fault is still in the eye of the beholder. In other words, juries have the opportunity to weigh these competing interests and the facts of loss to determine who was at fault for a crash involving a self-driving vehicle.

How Is a Self-Driving Vehicle Crash Different from a Normal Crash?

In most car crashes, fault is relatively clear-cut. Evidence usually tips the scales of justice one way of the other.

In a self-driving vehicle crash, vehicle data may need to be inspected carefully, to determine whether the vehicle, itself, violated the rules of the road or failed to respond as a reasonable person would have.

As is customary with a product defect claim, an analysis of the self-driving vehicle’s performance and prior testing may factor into a determination of fault.

Data experts — not crash experts — might have to be employed to crunch numbers and run modeling scenarios to find where a failure occurred. There may even need to be a balancing test between the subjectivity of safety overall and uniqueness of the crash itself.

Questions About Who Is at Fault in a Self-Driving Car Accident? Call Negretti & Associates

Self-driving vehicles crashes are complicated and uncertain. Remember, self-driving vehicle fault extends far beyond scenarios where human drivers and their passengers are hit by self-driving vehicles. In a situation where you were to engage the autonomous technology in your own vehicle and your vehicle causes a crash, you might have a claim against the maker of your vehicle’s automation technology.

If you ever find yourself in a crash involving a self-driving vehicle, and you are wondering who is at fault in a self-driving car accident, Negretti & Associates highly recommends that you give our firm a call for a free consultation. Call us at (602) 531-3911 in Arizona, (619) 777-3370 in California, or (720) 636-3444 in Colorado. You can also contact us online or send us a text.

self-driving cars: pros and cons

The evolution of self-driving vehicles has gone into warp speed over the past decade. In fact, most vehicles on the road today have some form of automation.

Depending on where you live, fully automated self-driving vehicles are either an everyday sight or not-too-far-off reality. Google’s autonomous Waymo vehicles have been cruising up and down the streets of Phoenix since early 2017.

As we navigate forward into a world that looks more like the Jetsons and less like the Flintstones, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of self-driving vehicles.

Of course, it can be quite difficult to predict the future, but we know this for certain about self-driving cars: pros and cons can be debated at great length.

Self-Driving Cars: Pros and Cons



Pro #1: Reduced Vehicle Crashes

The vast majority of motor vehicle crashes are due to human error. It is estimated that fully automated vehicles can reduce vehicle crashes by 90%.

One thing that is certain about any assessment of self-driving cars: pros and cons must take into account how self-driving vehicles can curb — and potentially eliminate — accidents caused by driver fatigue, inattention and distracted driving, and alcohol-related impairment.

Pro #2: More Efficient Travel

Fully automated vehicles are able to communicate with each other through a network of computers. This communication allows for real-time analysis which can help determine best routes of travel, as well as calculate appropriate speeds and distances between vehicles during rush-hour bottlenecks.

Pro #3: Decreased Traffic Flow

Since self-driving vehicles are communicating in real time, travel distances between vehicles can be improved. This can help reduce common traffic concerns.

Pro #4: Easier Access for the Elderly and Disabled

Self-driving vehicles could be a safer, more accessible alternative for persons with disabilities and the elderly alike. A 2017 study by Ruderman Family Foundation observes, “Mitigating transportation-related obstacles for individuals with disabilities would enable new employment opportunities for approximately 2 million individuals with disabilities, and save $19 billion annually in healthcare expenditures from missed medical appointments. This is in the context of the anticipated broader impacts of autonomous vehicles: $1.3 trillion in savings from productivity gains, fuel costs, accident prevention, among other sources.”

Con #1: Wide Adoption Is Necessary

It has been argued that for any of the pros listed above, the only way a fully autonomous system can works is if all vehicles are self-driving. The problem with this concept is that it would essentially strip people of their independent ability to drive.

Con #2: Massive Job Losses in Certain Economic Sectors

A sizeable portion of the population is wholly dependent on the automotive industry for their livelihoods. Many of those working in trucking, public transit, and delivery services would find their roles obsolete in a fully self-driving future.

Although Goldman Sachs has estimated that automation will shed 300,000 transportation-related jobs each year, new employment opportunities will be created in other ways.

Con #3: Hackers and Cyber-Security Threats

Security issues are a very real con of self-driving vehicles. When vehicles rely on computers to function, they are susceptible to cyber threats. If an entire system is comprised, so would society’s ability to remain connected and provide basic resources to the masses.

We’ve seen what kinds of disruptions that the recent Colonial Pipeline hack caused. The severity of a breach of an autonomous vehicle network would be incalculable by comparison.

Con #4: The Moral Dilemma

One very important theme that may not get the attention it deserves in discussions of self-driving cars: pros and cons do not always consider questions of morality.

The moral dilemma hinges on the idea that the artificial intelligence in self-driving vehicles lacks the ability to make judgments between multiple favorable outcomes — or “least bad” outcomes, for that matter. A classic example would be an autonomous vehicle choosing to run off the road, possibly killing the driver inside, in an attempt to avoid hitting a school bus filled with children.

Keep Thinking Ahead

The debate on self-driving vehicles and the use of fully autonomous technology rages on. The reality is that we will continue to see advancements in this technology. We need to be thinking ahead on how to incorporate these advancements into our daily lives.

If you have been injured in a self-driving car accident, do not hesitate to give Negretti & Associates a call. Your recovery can hinge on whether or not you have an experienced accident lawyer on your side. For a free consultation with our legal team, contact us online, call us at 1-833-827-3535, or send us a text.

tesla smart summon liability and insurance implications

In late September, car maker Tesla revealed a truly remarkable new technology for its cars, called Smart Summon. This software application enables Tesla drivers to use their smartphones — almost like joysticks — to order their cars to come to them.

With Smart Summon, you can walk out of a grocery store, pull out your smartphone, and request that your Tesla drive itself from its parking space to the curb where you’re standing, to pick you up.

Search the web for “smart summon” and you’ll already find hundreds of articles and videos about this new technology. The new self-driving feature has been met with immense curiosity and enthusiasm, as well as concern.

One of those articles has been written by Timothy Lee for After watching more than one hundred Smart Summon videos, Lee offers his impressions of the technology. “Smart Summon certainly has weaknesses (and I’ll discuss those in detail),” he writes, “but it’s important to first acknowledge that the technology worked in the vast majority of the more than 100 videos I viewed. I watched dozens of people successfully summon their cars from across parking lots without incident.”

It’s amazing to see Lee’s curated collection of perfect drives and near misses that have resulted from use of this new application.

Yet, while worthy of excitement, the new Smart Summon feature does raise many “what if” questions surrounding liability and insurance coverage.

What if a Tesla were to hit another vehicle, or is hit by another vehicle, while it is in the process of being summoned — and there’s no one physically driving the vehicle? Who is responsible?

Even worse, what if a Tesla were to hit a pedestrian while in Smart Summon mode? Is the “driver” — or summoner of the vehicle — at fault, or is the car’s manufacturer?

Watch a Tesla in Smart Summon mode try to navigate out of a parking space with a pedestrian nearby.

Insurance Policies Have Been Left in the Dust

Just like a fully loaded Tesla Model S zooming ahead of a diesel semi-truck after a light turns green, self-driving vehicle technology has raced ahead of state and federal laws. Insurance companies, too, have plenty of catching up to do.

Customarily, insurance companies cover the liability caused by the driver while utilizing a vehicle, as well as damages caused when another driver either doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough coverage.

Prior to the availability of Smart Summon technology, it would have been highly unlikely for insurance companies to seriously contemplate whether they needed to provide coverage for vehicles that were suddenly able to drive themselves.

In other words, a scenario in which a summoned Tesla gets into an accident while the insured “driver” navigates her Model S with her phone through a busy Home Depot parking lot, to pick her up at the curb, would have seemed pretty far-fetched just a few weeks ago.

To continue with that example, imagine that a human-operated vehicle crashed into the smart-summoned Tesla in a parking lot. The Tesla owner wouldn’t have an injury claim, but she certainly would have a property damage claim. Does the insurance policy afford coverage in that situation?

Arguably, at this point in time, the insurance company would have to provide coverage. Even though the car may be “driverless,” the assumption is that the insured would be the owner/operator of that vehicle — commanding her vehicle through her phone.

But this is only an assumption. Such scenarios haven’t been fleshed out in the court of law yet. Smart Summon is too new.

Until such cases develop, cause for concern will remain. Use of Smart Summon will continue to raise important questions about who is ultimately responsible for an accident.

Just as we will learn of updates that Tesla has made to Smart Summon, we will assuredly witness a constant evolution of other applications that are coming to market. Insurance coverages afforded to these vehicles will change, as well.

Parallels with Rideshare Insurance

It wasn’t that long ago when Uber and Lyft first made it possible for people to use their own cars for hire.

During the early days of Uber and Lyft, there were never exclusions in automobile policies. If you were driving your vehicle for hire, not being covered by your personal auto insurance policy was unthinkable. The need for a secondary or supplemental insurance policy, or coverage options from a rideshare company, was the last thing on an Uber or Lyft driver’s mind.

Today, a huge number of people drive for Uber and Lyft — many on a part-time basis. Yet, nearly every individual insurance policy excludes coverage for driving for a rideshare company, should he or she get into an accident while using a personal vehicle for a commercial purpose.

In the ridesharing industry, insurance policies eventually caught up with technology. We’ll probably see the same thing happen with Tesla’s Smart Summon application.

A Developing Story

When a revolutionary technology emerges, the story surrounding the technology will take time to develop. At the time of writing this article, Smart Summon is in its third week of use. Numerous companies are working on technologies that are similar to Tesla’s. It’s almost impossible to predict what will happen next.

Undoubtedly, insurance policies will evolve. We will witness challenges to insurance coverage. We are going to learn where responsibility lies with self-driving cars. We’ll find out whether insurance companies will assume responsibility and provide coverage, should a driverless accident or injury occur.

In the meantime, be sure to watch these newest Smart Summon videos. They are fantastic and captivating. The ability to order a vehicle to pull out of a parking space, drive in a crowded parking lot, navigate its way around cars and pedestrians, and pick us up in the front of a store, is mind-bending.

self-driving car accidents

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 94% of car accidents are due to human error. Innovators have imagined a world where our faults would no longer endanger each other on the road.

Today, self-driving cars seem to be a permanent reality, especially in Arizona where Uber had been testing its autonomous vehicles. While many passengers arrived unharmed, one self-driving car hit and killed a pedestrian on March 18, 2018.

As self-driving vehicles enter our roads, the chances of self-driving car accidents will inevitably increase. However, some autonomous vehicles makers, like Zoox, are focusing on safety to prevent crashes.

Potential Claims for Self-Driving Car Accident Victims

Although the law surrounding self-driving vehicles is widely unsettled, Nevada and California have determined that the operator of the car (the person who “causes the technology to engage”) is responsible if there is an accident.

How An Accident Attorney Can Help You

If you have been injured in a self-driving car accident, do not hesitate to give us a call. Your recovery can hinge on whether or not you have an experienced accident lawyer on your side.

An insurance company will try to minimize your injuries to save themselves as much money as possible. Do not go it alone. At Negretti & Associates, we will negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf to get you the maximum compensation you deserve for your current and future medical treatment, property damage, and lost wages.

We will vigilantly defend your rights and pursue any rightful claims for damages, medical expenses, and compensation for the pain and suffering you have endured. We also understand the importance of securing compensation for future medical treatment. We will also help you collect compensation for the time you have to take off from work to deal with your injuries. Learn more about auto accident cases.

Our team of accident attorneys knows what it takes to win. We promise to fully investigate your claim and make sure you get the recovery you deserve. If you’d like to schedule a free consultation, please call us at 602-531-3911 or click here to email us.