The Self-Driving Car Blame Game: Who’s Liable For Accidents Now?

Posted July 12, 2016
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The idea of a self-driving car is one we’re all familiar with from movies, television shows, and novels. Well, the future is upon us as these vehicles can be found on our roads right now.

While Tesla’s latest self-driving creation is quite the leap forward, there will always be those who are wary of this technology. The biggest argument to date is that these self-driving vehicles are still susceptible to collisions when on the road with other vehicles. Even with all the latest technology and sensing equipment, not every situation can be avoided or predicted until it happens. The most recent, and fatal, example was in Williston, Florida where a man using the “auto-pilot” feature collided with a semi-truck crossing in front of him. The semi-truck crossed perpendicularly in front of the self-driving Tesla, which failed to stop to avoid the collision. The subsequent accident saw the Tesla’s roof and windshield partially ripped off, resulting in the death of the driver Joshua David Brown.

A case can be made that this accident could’ve happened to any driver and cites that the angle of the sun reflecting off the white semi made it difficult for the Tesla’s sensors to detect the truck. So, who is to blame in this case?

On one hand, people can argue that the driver should’ve taken control and not simply let the vehicle drive for him. A self-driving vehicle doesn’t remove the driver’s ability to properly control the vehicle, but rather provides the option of self-driving is the driver choose to use it.

On the other hand, shouldn’t the company who made the car (Tesla) be responsible for this mishap? After all, they market the vehicles as being safe on the road. Many sources clearly illustrate all the sensors and detection capabilities featured in Tesla’s self-driving vehicles.

It has never been less clear who is liable, and some believe there will be a shift in liability from the driver to the manufacturer in the years to come. What do you think?

Hearing from the Experts

In an article by CNBC, the debate about the road-readiness of self-driving vehicles continued.

“The technology for driverless and semi-automated cars hasn’t been tested enough” Duke University Robotics Director Mary Cummings says.

She also added that she hopes this technology will be completely autonomous by the time her 8-year-old daughter is of driving age.

Read more:

We asked our very own personal injury lawyer Stephen Birman of Thomson Rogers about his thoughts and he had this to say:

“From my perspective, there are incredible gains being made with automated vehicle technology that no doubt will save lives in the future. However, my concern is that users of these features will become overly reliant on them, as the Tesla case demonstrates that both technology and human inaction caused the accident.

The automated technologies remain in their infancy and will undoubtedly face challenges along the way. The recent spat of recalls and litigation against major car manufacturers in respect of common car features like brakes and airbag safety demonstrate that the car manufacturing industry is not without imperfection, despite these being basic car features for many decades.

The new technology will face similar challenges and there will, unfortunately, be defects or imperfections in the technology (and litigation) along the way. There is no question in my mind that the human response system will need to work in tandem with the automated systems for these systems to be effective, and that car manufacturers will face new forms of litigation in the future when the imperfections in their automated systems inevitably result in tragic consequences, such as in the Tesla case.”

For full details on the accident involving a Tesla vehicle, and other opinions, visit: