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Self-Driving Car Accidents: Who Is to Blame?


We are all prone to mistakes, which is why civil engineers have spent centuries studying conditions and infrastructure related to travel in order to design solutions that can be used to mitigate accidents.

In their quest to perfect the self-driving vehicle, tech companies like Uber and Waymo have been testing autonomous cars in several states throughout the country. The goal for these companies, is to have driverless cars on the roads for consumers by the year 2020, if not sooner.

However, tragedy struck this week when a 49-year-old female pedestrian in Arizona was struck and killed by an Uber test vehicle operating in autonomous mode.  At the time of the accident, the pedestrian was crossing the street, and the self-driving vehicle was under the supervision of a human safety driver.

The pedestrian was not the first victim of an accident involving a driverless car. In fact, a driver in a Tesla that was on auto-pilot was killed in an accident in 2016. Unfortunately, more accidents involving self-driving vehicles will occur.

As the situation in Arizona continues to be investigated by police and Uber, car-makers everywhere are contemplating issues like ethics and liability that currently surround this advanced technology.

Assigning Responsibility

Unlike people, cars don’t experience road rage, suffer fatigue or drink a beer before hitting the highway.  However, just like humans, these technological achievements are still capable of making mistakes. When it comes to accidents involving humans, assigning blame can be fairly easy, especially if the driver makes a mistake and there are no extenuating circumstances. When it comes to self-driving car accidents though, assigning blame isn’t as clear-cut.

This is because there are various levels of driving autonomy to consider, such as fully-autonomous and various degrees of partially-autonomous.

Partially-autonomous vehicles still involve some level of human control. This means that assigning liability depends on what action led to the collision and whether it was based on decisions by the driver or the vehicle. For fully autonomous vehicles, the blame can be shared by many parties, including the manufacturer, the software provider, the service center, and possibly the property owner. Negligence and liability can also fall to the owner for failing to implement a software update from the manufacturer.

The sensors that are attached to autonomous cars track, monitor and measure almost everything.  Navigation sensors show routes, while situational awareness sensors detect obstacles, follow lane marks, and read traffic signs. The performance measurement monitors keep track of functions like tire pressure and the car’s oil levels.

Uber and the National Traffic Safety Administration will likely review the sensor data involved in the Arizona accident to reconstruct the scene.

Not surprisingly, Uber has been under attack in the media for the recent Arizona death. The truth is, people fear the unknown, including the safety of driverless cars. However, it is a mistake to overreact and blame Uber. Instead, we must wait until we have all of the facts.

We will learn from the facts of this accident and all the other data collected though the future testing of autonomous vehicles to ensure that we are prepared when autonomous cars become available in Wisconsin.

State highway planners are already studying the possibility of placing driverless vehicle lanes on I-94 to serve Foxconn's mega factory in Racine County. The company has requested a dedicated driverless lane to help efficiently transport people, materials and products. Gov. Scott Walker recently created a steering committee to recommend a coordinated effort on how best to advance testing and operation of autonomous and connected vehicles in Wisconsin.

The Foxconn project is moving fast and driverless cars will be here sooner than you might think.

At Casey Law Offices, S.C., we focus exclusively on prosecuting injury claims to ensure that negligent individuals and businesses are held responsible for irresponsible behavior that results in injury. Our goal is to help those who have been harmed obtain fair compensation. We represent Wisconsinites who have suffered a variety of injuries, including those related to driving accidents.

Contact our Wisconsin personal injury attorneys to set up a free consultation with our attorney today.