Early Tests by Google Reveal Safety Concerns for Driverless Car Technology

Every year, about 1.3 million people worldwide die in traffic crashes, the Association for Safe International Road Travel reports. Car accidents actually rank as the ninth-leading cause of death in the world. In response to this risk, automakers and tech companies have started to look for ways to make safer vehicles. They have begun to develop and roll out “smart cars,” or cars that essentially drive themselves.

Waymo,” which is Google’s self-driving vehicle research and production company, is an example. Google started the company in 2009. It is the tech giant’s ambitious attempt to use automation to remove human driving mistakes from the roads. However, since 2013, Waymo and other driverless car projects have hit some road bumps.

Falling Asleep, Distractions Among Early Problems with Driverless Cars

In early tests, Google uncovered some telling problems with driverless car technology. The Telegraph, a London media outlet, reports that Google temporarily halted production of the Waymo line after the company discovered that some test drivers fell asleep behind the wheel even when the car traveled at speeds as fast as 55 miles per hour. Google admitted that some of these test drivers also engaged in distractions such as putting on makeup while driving.

Other automakers have encountered problems with driverless cars as well. For instance, in 2016, one man died in one of the worst autopilot car accidents yet, according to Business Insider. Some media sources suggest that the man was watching a movie in the Tesla when the vehicle reportedly drove under the backside of a tractor-trailer.  

Who Could Be Liable in a Driverless Vehicle Crash?

Because driverless vehicles are such a new concept, many questions of liability for crashes remain unresolved, Inside Science points out. It may take some time before courts and lawmakers fully flesh out the responsibilities of driverless car owners and operators and manufacturers as well as the rights of those who share the road with these vehicles.

However, if you apply traditional legal concepts to driverless car crashes, you can draw a few helpful conclusions. For instance, the law holds people responsible for their negligence. So, if you do something careless or reckless when you operate an automated car that causes a crash, you could be held responsible for any harm that you cause others to suffer.

On the other hand, the manufacturer could be held partly or entirely responsible as well. If the vehicle malfunctions, and the malfunction causes someone else to suffer an injury, traditional product liability concepts would apply to the case.

Operators vs. Manufacturers

As more companies produce driverless cars and more people use these cars on the road, it follows that more driverless car accidents will undoubtedly happen. In turn, disputes are bound to arise between manufacturers and operators. Neither one will want to accept liability for a crash. The manufacturer may argue that the car operator failed to exercise caution, misused the features of the vehicle or otherwise acted unreasonably. On the other hand, the car operator may argue that the vehicle failed to function properly.

Consider the following:

  • Owner/Operator Liability

A driver gets out of his car and forgets to put the vehicle in park. The vehicle rolls away and strikes someone, causing serious injuries.  In this scenario, the driver would clearly be negligent and liable for those injuries even though the driver technically did not operate the vehicle at the time it struck the victim. Likewise, the owner of a driverless vehicle has an obligation to use the vehicle properly even if the driver technically does not “drive” the car. If the owner fails to operate the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and a crash results, the owner could be liable.

  • Manufacturer Liability

A driver uses cruise control at 70 miles per hour on the interstate. The driver taps the brakes to take the vehicle off cruise, but the cruise does not disengage. The driver then loses control and strikes someone else’s vehicle.  In this case, the driver may not be liable if the driver can prove that a manufacturing defect – rather than poor maintenance or driver error – caused the crash. Liability may shift to the company that made the defective vehicle.  

Getting Legal Help After a Driverless Vehicle Crash

If you are injured by an autopilot or driverless vehicle, you will need an attorney with experience and resources to handle your case. Get help today from Hausmann-McNally. We will be prepared to fight for the compensation that you deserve. Call or contact us online today to receive a free, confidential and personalized today.