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Automakers accept liability for self-driving cars

Regulations often need time to catch up with technological advances, and autonomous cars, which may appear on North Carolina roads in the years to come, raise questions about accident liability. Current laws require drivers to insure their vehicles, but when a vehicle does the driving, assignment of liability becomes murky.

Tests of self-driving cars developed by Google already routinely take place on streets in Silicon Valley. Mercedes-Benz and Tesla are also actively testing semiautonomous and autonomous vehicles. When automakers have been questioned about accident liability, they have indicated that their companies would be responsible.

Automakers claim that self-driving cars will be safer. According to Google, human error accounts for 94 percent of accidents. Even with the elimination of human error, a self-driving car still fails to perform perfectly. Rainy and snowy conditions remain problematic for autonomous vehicles, and the vehicle interpretation of hand gestures from pedestrians and other drivers has been imprecise.

Although automakers have stated an acceptance of liability for self-driving cars, the circumstances of any individual car accident could still be challenged by an automaker in court. Even today, accidents involving human drivers often create disputes about the assignment of fault. A person hurt in a wreck who believes another negligent driver caused the crash might choose to work with an attorney to recover damages. The attorney can review the accident investigation report and, with the aid of eyewitness testimony and other evidence, determine the party or parties that should be held responsible. In a successful lawsuit or settlement, plaintiffs might receive compensation for medical bills, lost income and other applicable damages.

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