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Are drivers still liable for a crash while on autopilot?

Vehicles are beginning to incorporate intelligent features, such as autopilot, and fully self-driving cars may one day hit the market. These new technological marvels could improve our lives in several ways.

At the same time, there’s no guarantee that the roads would be free of traffic accidents. Just this January, for instance, a Tesla Model S crashed into a California fire truck while set on autopilot. Although there were no injuries, this crash and similar incidents are gaining attention from concerned courts.

Who is legally responsible for this type of accident?

Depending on the situation, liability could potentially rest either with the driver or the vehicle manufacturer. The cause of a crash while on autopilot could be due to a user error or malfunction.

This situation is an emerging area of law, which means that there are few model cases to help courts make decisions. In the legal world, these can turn into two distinct types of personal injury cases:

  • If a vehicle defect caused the accident, the case would involve product liability.
  • If the driver improperly used the intelligent feature, the case would likely be characterized as a traditional car accident claim. The liable party would then have to pay any awarded compensation.

What this could mean for crash victims

Digital technology and artificial intelligence are highly complex. Whereas an airbag defect might be easier to diagnose, a software glitch could be harder to detect, much less prove. This could mean that drivers and manufacturers might argue liability at length, which will only complicate and delay personal injury cases.

Drivers can still be negligent

The idea that technology eliminates human error is a fantasy. Currently, there are no autopilot features that can replace the required attention and decision-making skills of a human driver. Even the most accurate autopilot systems become flawed in the hands of a negligent or risky driver.

You deserve to be as safe as possible on the road. Crash victims should be able to pursue compensation for injuries and medical expenses, regardless of whether human or machine is legally at fault.

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