Self-Driving Cars Are Here. How Does Liability Law Handle Them?

by Staff Blogger | November 13th, 2023

Self-driving cars, once a dream of futuristic sci-fi, are now cruising our streets, reshaping our daily commutes. For road users, they give the hope of enhanced safety and efficiency, and may transform the way we think about transportation.

Despite their advanced sensors and AI capabilities, self-driving cars are not immune to accidents. In 2022, six fatal accidents involving autonomous vehicles and five crashes resulted in serious injuries.

When you’re injured in a self-driving car accident, you can file for compensation–but how do you know who is at fault when nobody is behind the wheel? Our California car accident attorneys can review the evidence to determine who is at fault and help you seek fair compensation.

Liability Factors Involving Self-Driving Technology

Liability depends on factors such as the vehicle’s autonomy level, the driver’s actions, and the manufacturer’s knowledge of defects or safety issues. For an autonomous vehicle collision, the blame could fall on any of the following parties:

  • Manufacturer. The onus might fall on the manufacturer if a vehicle’s internal systems or hardware are flawed, leading to a collision. Companies producing autonomous vehicles must uphold rigorous safety standards and quality inspections to avoid accidents.
  • Human operator. In vehicles that aren’t fully self-driving, the person in the driver’s position might still bear responsibility. There are instances where they are expected to step in, and either failing to act or intervening incorrectly can make them liable.
  • Software developer. The brain behind the car’s decision-making is its software. If a glitch or oversight in the programming leads to an incident, the developer or the company that produced the software might be held responsible.
  • Infrastructure providers. The environment in which the car operates is just as critical. If the car faces challenges due to substandard road conditions or unsuitable traffic systems, entities responsible for maintaining the infrastructure might be accountable.

Levels of Autonomy in Self-Driving Vehicles

The vehicle’s autonomy level is critical to self-driving car crash liability. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) classifies self-driving vehicles into six levels, ranging from Level 0 (no automation) to Level 5 (full automation). Each level represents a different degree of human and machine control over the vehicle:

  • Level 0 – no automation. Human drivers are in complete control, and there is no automated assistance.
  • Level 1 – driver assistance. Basic features like adaptive cruise control are automated, but the driver remains primarily responsible.
  • Level 2 – partial automation. The vehicle can control steering and acceleration simultaneously, but the driver must monitor and be ready to take control at any moment.
  • Level 3 – conditional automation. The vehicle can handle most aspects of driving but may require the driver to intervene when prompted.
  • Level 4 – high automation. Vehicles can handle all driving tasks under most conditions, but humans can still take over if needed.
  • Level 5 – full automation. No human intervention is required; the vehicle can operate in all conditions autonomously.

Evolving Nature of Liability Law

As self-driving cars become more prevalent, legal frameworks regarding liability are evolving. Courts and legislators are proactively addressing the issues these vehicles present. Key developments in this area include:

  • Legal precedent. In many cases, standard legal precedents remain whether or not the vehicle has a human operator. For instance, in California’s at-fault insurance system, whoever caused the damages is considered liable and must pay for the damages. This can mean a personal injury or product liability claim, depending on fault.         

Berg Injury Lawyers: Your Advocate in Self-Driving Car Accident Claims

Autonomous vehicles are now part of our daily lives, altering how we perceive responsibility in car accidents. If you’ve been injured in a self-driving car collision, consult with an experienced attorney at Berg Injury Lawyers.

We know California’s laws on autonomous vehicles and will advocate on your behalf, gathering evidence to support your claim and holding the responsible parties accountable.

Contact us today to discuss your case and pursue the compensation you deserve.