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When Driverless Cars Crash, Who’s to Blame?

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In todays world, half of Americans say they’d be willing to try using a driverless car. The advantages to an autonomous vehicle are endless, everyone would rather sleep or watch a movie rather then driving on long road trips. Also, autonomous vehicles are a way for the elderly to get around from place to place after they’ve gotten their keys taken away. Autonomous cars represent freedom and technological innovation at its finest. However, is it too risky with all the legal problems to put autonomous vehicles on the road?

When an autonomous vehicle crashes who’s to blame? Does the person who owns the car get sued or the vehicle manufacturer? It’s hard enough to assign liability in a car crash between two people let alone a car that drives on its own! If a car driver drifts out of his lane, but the computer assist doesn’t kick in and he crashes, who receives the blame the car manufacturer or the driver?

Analysts agree that car manufacturers will take the blame for accidents associated with autonomous vehicles. They are the bigger association and have more money, plus they are also responsible for the design of the car. This is why auto manufacturers must perfect the technology of autonomous cars. They have to teach the car to make good decisions. The hardest decision is whether the car protects the driver and passengers at all costs or if it is more aware of its surrounding. If the car has an ironclad obligation to protect its passengers and that puts non-passengers at risk (specifically pedestrians), where does the car company draw the line?

A potential solution to the legal grey area includes autonomous cars giving warnings for when a human should take over. This warning would be issued in areas of extreme traffic or during areas of the road that present potential hazards, such as lane closings or construction. That way if a warning is issued and the driver doesn’t take over and the car gets into an accident, the manufacturer would not be liable for damages. Autonomous vehicles represent a huge safety innovation. If self driving cars cause a handful of accidents each year, but prevent thousands of accidents created by human drivers, it may be worth it to invest in autonomous vehicles moving forward.



  1. Zachary Durkin
    Zachary Durkin

    I don’t see a huge problem with the car-to-human aspect of this, and I never understood why UMTRI stressed over it. The cars can easily be equipped with technology to determine whether the driver is able to take over, and if the driver is not ready, simply slow down, pull over, and shut down the car until the driver is ready.

    May 13, 2014
  2. Kuangdi Zhao
    Kuangdi Zhao

    I remembered few years ago, VW provides customers the option to purchase automatic parking on their cars. By choosing this option, customers can just stand on the street and watch their cars park automatically. However, this option is not available in all countries. Some countries prohibit cars to move if drivers are not in the car. Perhaps this can illustrate the difficulty facing drive less car.

    May 13, 2014
  3. Kade Kenlon
    Kade Kenlon

    Having the car alert the driver at any sign of traffic or any other possible danger is a step towards getting autonomous vehicles on the road. Also the more autonomous vehicles on the road the less issues autonomous vehicles will have on the road, especially if they can communicate with each other, which UMTRI is working towards.

    May 13, 2014
  4. mayolj16

    I agree with Zach that there should not be any issues on who to blame. The car manufacturers should be blamed for any accidents with autonomous cars since they are the ones designing them. The only exceptions would be when the user does not comply with the maintenance of the car, or makes any non authorized modifications to the car.

    May 13, 2014
  5. Louis Ike
    Louis Ike

    The speaker at the alumni gathering in Detroit gave his thoughts on autonomous cars from a lawyers perspective. He said that autonomous vehicles would only be feasible on a mass scale if the manufacturers reached an incredibly low percentage of vehicles crashing. Once this has been achieved, he said that an insurance industry would likely arise to insure large OEM’s against law suits arising from autonomous vehicle crashes. I think that this may be the best way to deal with legal issues surrounding autonomous vehicle crashes: much like how doctor’s practices have mal-practice insurance, OEM’s will have autonomous vehicle collision insurance.

    May 14, 2014

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