The automobile and technology industries have grown exponentially in the past few decades. With cutting-edge technology, more features are being added to vehicles to make them stand out in the market and more secure for users. One such incredible and intriguing addition to cars is the self-driving feature.
Autopilot systems have been present in airplanes for ages now, but somehow such systems became incorporated into cars only recently. Tesla was a pioneer in self-driving car technology but claimed that such systems were there to aid the driver and were not supposed to be used as a driver itself. “One would hope that such systems would make roads safer, but somehow, these systems have made drivers slightly more complacent,” says attorney Matthew Aulsbrook of Aulsbrook Car & Truck Wreck Lawyers.
Is it Even Legal to Drive Self-Driving Cars?
When new technology comes into play, so do new laws around it. It is especially true for the motor industry because there are so many vehicles on the roads, and there need to be strict laws around them to ensure public safety. But considering how quickly technology in cars is being developed and incorporated, it is difficult for lawmakers to keep up. Due to this, there are still some differences from state to state.
It is legal for drivers to own and drive self-driving cars in every state in the United States. However, someone needs to be in the driver’s seat while on the road. That being said, there is a gray area when it comes to driving such a car. There are currently no clear laws about how much work the driver should be doing and how much work the car can do.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced these instructions, but they are not laws. And the rules that are present for such cars are not for autonomous vehicles.
Trouble with Deciding Who is Liable in a Car Accident Involving a Self-Driving Car.
Since two parties are responsible for driving the car in such scenarios, it gets tricky for courts to decide who is responsible if a self-driving car crashes. The liability can either be a tort liability or a product liability.
If the driver is found responsible and proven that they were negligent and their actions led to the crash, they will be held accountable, and it will be a tort liability.
On the other hand, if the experts determine that the car was defective or a failure of the car’s self-driving system, the car manufacturer may be held responsible. It will then be product liability due to a defect in manufacturing, negligence, or failure to warn consumers regarding something important.
The laws around liability and who will be held responsible vary from state to state; It is also highly dependent on the circumstances around the crash.
Two Cases Involving Self-Driving Cars and Who Was Held Responsible?
The first case involved a 27-year-old limousine service driver, Kevin George Aziz Riad, who was driving a Tesla S on December 29, 2019, in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena. The car collided with a Honda Civic occupied by 40-year-old Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and 39-year-old Maria Nieves Lopez. Both occupants of the Honda Civic died due to the crash, whereas the driver of the Tesla S survived.
It was then determined that although the Autopilot system was on, the driver was driving at very high speeds and ran a red light before colliding with the Civic. The court charged Riad with two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter and negligence.
The second case also occurred in 2019. In Florida, George Brian McGee, a finance executive, was driving home in a Tesla Model S on Autopilot when he leaned down to pick up his smartphone. He trusted that the Autopilot system would stop in case of an obstacle, but the vehicle crossed a stop sign and a blinking red light. As a result, it then collided with a parked Chevrolet Tahoe. A 22-year-old college student, Naibel Benavides, was standing outside the car and died due to the collision. However, in this case, the driver was not charged.
Both these cases garnered a lot of attention and many questions. It wasn’t easy to decide who was responsible in the second case, and the fact that the driver was not charged received a lot of backlash. But such cases can be very tricky, and it is hard to determine liability. It is crucial that drivers actively pay attention to the road and do not become complacent even with such technology. Even a tiny mistake can lead to irreparable damage.