Self Driving Cars & Accidents: Who is Liable?

As more and more cars become autonomous in the future, there are serious questions about who will hold liability in the event of an automobile accident. Since humans will not be operating the vehicles, it seems unfair to hold them responsible for any damages that might result from a computer defect in a self-driving car. However, if the driver isn’t responsible, who should be? The car manufacturer? The company that built the virtual driverless car system? It is hard to imagine the world without drivers but as we move into the future, this world could very well become our reality. In this article, we will explore some possibilities that we might encounter in the future and how car insurance will fit in each universe.

There are a few levels of automation that we will encounter before actually reaching a state of complete automation if we can ever reach it at all. In a world of absolutely no automation, it would seem reasonable to hold humans accountable for accidents since, presumably, they are in complete control of the vehicle. This is the world of yesterday. Today, however, although there aren’t many self-driving cars, there is still plenty of automation. Many processes in vehicles today like brakes and steering are partially, if not fully, automated and there have been cases of car manufacturers being held liable for accidents caused by deficiencies or malfunctions in these systems. In a world of complete automation, with no human drivers, who should pay for accidents? Some argue that companies that produce the cars and systems in which they drive should be held responsible since in a way they are the ones “driving.” Others argue that accidents will reduce in frequency so significantly that automobile insurance will simply become obsolete and companies like Geico and StateFarm will go out of business. Some even speculate that the general public will cease to even own cars as ride-sharing companies start to amass the totality of self-driving cars. In this case, if accidents happen, the liability would probably be shifted to the ride-sharing companies. This precedent is seen today with ride-sharing companies. For example, if a contracted driver in a ride-sharing company is involved in a crash on today’s roads, that driver’s insurance typically covers the costs associated with the incident and the employing company covers any extraneous costs. A rider in the car will typically not be responsible for any costs associated with the accident even if they are personally harmed.

While a world of all driverless cars may seem farfetched and very distant, the simple fact is there are only going to be more in the future. Eventually, the legal system will have to make a decision regarding liability in driverless crashes. For now, you should definitely have insurance if you are going to be driving. Furthermore, if you are involved in an accident, you may be held responsible and you should seek the expertise of Columbia, South Carolina automobile accident attorneys.