As self-driving cars get closer to becoming a reality on the highways, one big question keeps coming up: who will pay if a self-driving car is involved in an accident? In theory, self-driving cars will make the roads so safe that accidents will never happen, but the likelihood is that it will be some time before the technology reaches that standard. Until then, standard principles of auto accident law should continue to apply.
Usually, the Driver Is On the Hook
Most car accidents today are caused by human error. That is, someone was speeding, failed to stop at a stop sign, didn't look before changing lanes, or did something else that they shouldn't have done.
In these cases, the driver who committed the error is responsible for paying for any injuries or damage the accident caused. It's important to note here that the standard isn't that the driver intentionally did something wrong, but that they negligently violated traffic laws or otherwise drove unsafely — it's called an accident for a reason.
With self-driving cars, driver error won't be completely eliminated, at least at first. During testing, a driver is required to monitor the car's performance and to take over in certain situations.
When self-driving cars hit the road, the driver will probably still be responsible for being prepared to take over in an instant to avoid an emergency. If they fail to do so, they will likely be on the hook.
If Equipment Was Poorly Maintained, the Driver Is Still on the Hook
A car driver is responsible for keeping their car in good condition. They must maintain safety features like lights, windshield wipers, brakes, and tires.
When an accident is caused by worn brakes, old tires, or similar maintenance problems, the driver has failed in their duty to maintain a safe car. That means that they are going to be responsible for all costs incurred due to the accident. The same logic would apply if a self-driving computer system or other electronics required regular maintenance.
If Equipment Wasn't Manufactured or Designed Properly, the Manufacturer Pays
If an accident is caused by equipment that was faulty, not because of poor maintenance, but because its original design was unsafe or there was a manufacturing defect, the equipment's manufacturer is responsible for the accident. This is because drivers should be able to rely on the equipment sold to them being safe as long as they maintain it properly. So, if a driver did everything discussed in the first two sections and a bad self-driving system caused an accident, the manufacturer would probably be responsible.
To learn more about who might be responsible for paying auto accident claims, contact a local auto accident attorney today.