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Image from an actual HMN case, reproduced with permission

Determining fault in an accident with a driverless car

| Mar 3, 2018 | Blog |

Studies repeatedly find that human error is the cause of most car and truck accidents. The takeaway is that accidents are preventable, that a human caused the accident by doing something wrong. In legal terms, this is referred to as a negligent driver: someone who caused injury to someone else as a result of their actions.

In the dawn of driverless cars, the narrative is shifting. Humans are interacting with machines, and it requires a new conversation and a new way of looking at things. In December, an automated vehicle and a motorcyclist collided in San Francisco, causing significant injuries for the motorcyclist. He’s filed a lawsuit against General Motors claiming the accident was caused by the automated vehicle, which was being monitored by an in-car passenger who made an unsuccessful attempt to avoid the collision.

Cause and effect

Popular Science looks into the concept in-depth, focusing attention on the concept of human and machine interaction. A car accident is different when there is no driver. If an automated vehicle is at fault, it’s not a negligent decision, but defective programming by the manufacturer—which, in this case, is what the motorcyclist claims.

While it may feel like this is mincing words, it highlights a fundamental difference. It’s difficult for a human to understand a computer reaction, which leads to finger pointing and assigning blame. People point blame in most car accidents, but it’s different when there is a face to face interaction versus a machine. Humans and machines “think” differently.

A similar outcome: man or machine

Fully automated highways remain a fantasy at this point, but the case highlights one universal truth: error is the primary cause of most accidents. In this example, there are arguments concerning the motorcyclist’s behavior and claims that the automated car responded unpredictably as well. In either case, one man (or machine), is negligent (or defective) and at fault.

The top priority for anyone injured in a car crash is to protect their health and get out of the situation safely. A fundamental legal protection for injury victims is that they won’t be held responsible for others’ negligent actions. If another driver’s reckless or unpredictable behavior leads to an incident, an attorney can help you to understand the situation and to seek compensation to help recover from the incident, no matter who was navigating.