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Autonomous Car Crashes: Who – or What – Is to Blame?

The incorporation of creativity into automobiles has made autonomous cars come into existence with the sole aim of preventing more occurrences of car crashes. Since autonomous cars are self-driving cars or driverless cars, they are designed to be safer than humans because accidents are known to be caused (in 94% of cases) by drivers‘ errors (maybe due to the negligence of some important details or other salient factors). However, it has become increasingly difficult to point fingers in accusation, in cases of liability in autonomous car accidents. Lawmakers find it a shady case answering the big question “Who is to Blame for Autonomous Car Crashes”

Some school of thought suggests that “when a computerized driver replaces a human driver; should in case any form of crash occurs, the companies behind the software and hardware would sit in the legal liability hot seat and not essentially the car owner or the person’s insurance company.


But “who gets to take the blame” is still not clear because different scenarios and cases of autonomous car crashes require different considerations.


In the United States, Autonomous cars are not yet “fully autonomous”, they are in Test mode therefore, and a human driver is required to pay adequate attention. However, it was discovered that upon the occurrence of accidents the autonomous car warned its driver to disengage the autopilot and take full control of the vehicle. In this case, do we say the driver takes the blame for the occurrence of auto crashes?


Alan Kennington, an experienced personal injury lawyer, has the following guidelines to better understand the grey shades experienced by lawmakers over autonomic crashes. Here are some of the hypothetical cases (levels) that have been used to illustrate these points.

Scenario 1: Level 5 legbreaker

A level 5 fully autonomous car crashes into a pedestrian crossing the road, fracturing the pedestrian’s leg. The car’s camera and CCTV reveals that the Pedestrian was not paying full attention while crossing the road. It is also noted that the driver isn’t paying full attention. Later investigations revealed that the car’s software was not in proper functional condition.


The Big question; who is to blame?


Here is what Alan says; “what would most likely happen would be that the pedestrian would bring a lawsuit against the car manufacturer as well as the creator of the technology”


He also further explains that “they would also examine the driver, to look at the actions they took in the build-up to the crash”.


He also emphasized that “all the people would come into play. It would be important for the jury to be able to hear the facts of the case so that they can determine if the operator did everything they should have done.  if the investigation proved that the software experienced an error, and then it would be more likely that the manufacturer would be held responsible.


Since Autonomous crashes occur in different levels and scenarios, this prompted him to give more hypothetical examples;


Scenario 2: Lax driver in a Level 2 car.


A level 2 autonomous car crashes into a car in front of it, causing severe whiplash to all those involved. The driver was not paying full attention, but later investigations also show that the car’s sensors were faulty.


The Big question again, “Who is to blame?”


“In this situation, it is ultimately the driver, because they were not paying attention,” says Kennington.


He further explained that “a key part of attributing liability to the car or driver lies with the level of involvement that the driver has”.


He buttressed the fact that where the driver’s judgment is needed, warning devices which might be present are for assistive purposes, not to take total control of the drive; and that With the “control” being the dividing line, it might be a little bit easier establishing verdicts over autonomous crashes.


Although it seems quite tasking, establishing verdicts, the dividing line as explained by Kennington would definitely be the point of control. However, manufacturers have committed to improving the applications and safety of autonomous cars, to produce intelligent technology-laden vehicles capable of maximal functionality without dependence of some form of human control.


As time progresses, there might be no cause to establish blame and file suits against manufacturers or drivers over any form of crashes—as there might even be no occurrences of such.



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