How Will Self-Driving Cars Impact Personal Injury Law?

Google Self Driving Car

A Revolutionary Technology on the Horizon

Ever since the motor vehicle was invented, the self-driving car has been a product of speculation rather than reality – up until now, that is. As we speak, so-called autonomous cars are being tested by Google in California and Nevada, and with very positive results. In the first 300,000 miles, not a single accident has been recorded. The major tech company is confident that they will release a consumer-ready product to the general public within five years.

Distracted and drunk driving crashes, along with other types of motor vehicle accidents, contribute to approximately 33,000 fatalities each year in the United States. The total monetary damages add up to hundreds of billions of dollars. If self-driving cars become mainstream – and there’s a good chance they will – motor vehicle accident rates will likely experience a drastic decrease. It’s easy to see why self-driving cars are garnering support since they may contribute to safer roads and consequently save many lives.

Legal Issues Surrounding Self-Driving Cars

For certain, the introduction of this game changing technology is not going to be completely smooth. It will probably take years for society to fully adapt, as it always does with major technological innovations. In the process, a slew of new legal considerations will need to be resolved before self-driving cars can become part of everyday life.

Today’s motor vehicle liability laws are predicated on the notion that there is a clear distinction between the driver and their vehicle. The driver has the duty to exercise reasonable care when operating their vehicle, while the vehicle manufacturer has the duty to build and release working products without dangerous defects. However, what duties, if any, does the driver have once s/he relinquishes all control of the vehicle to the vehicle itself? Does the manufacturer take on complete liability?

Considering the fact that Google was recently ordered to incorporate immediate manual override controls in their self-driving vehicles, it seems unlikely that manufacturers will be held liable in every accident case without exception. First of all, it would be impractical to expect companies to bear such a huge financial burden, and second, such a ruling would likely stifle innovation since companies would be hesitant to release game changing technologies out of fear of liability issues.

So, let’s suppose that motorists will maintain some form of liability even when behind the wheel of a self-driving car. This brings up more questions than answers: what would constitute driver negligence? To what extent should the driver be monitoring the situation? How fast should s/he be expected to react in an emergency situation? What if the vehicle commits a navigation error so egregious that an accident becomes unavoidable? Who should be held liable in such a case? And we haven’t even gotten started on how comparative fault laws would come into the equation.

Clearly, the legal considerations surrounding self-driving vehicles are extremely complex and will require extensive, perhaps even unconventional solutions.

A Law Firm on the Leading Edge

The experienced Sacramento attorneys at Demas Law Group, P.C., keep up with the latest developments in personal injury law. Whatever happens in the future in regards to self-driving cars, we will be ready to litigate accident cases, no matter how complex the resultant legalities become. For more information on the services we provide, contact us online or call (916) 444-0100. We offer free, comprehensive consultations.