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Liability for Accidents Involving Driverless Cars

Automated “self-driving” or “driverless” cars are not fully understood by the average U.S. motorist, as their technology has not yet been fully developed. And the use of automated vehicles already created is limited.

If you are new to the concept of “self-driving” or “driverless” cars, you likely have more than a few questions: How much is handled by these vehicles’ in-the-moment artificial intelligence? How much is controlled by the manufacturer’s programming? How safe can these cars really be? Perhaps above all, you might be wondering: Who is considered liable in the event of a crash or other accident?

Let’s take a quick look at the background of this vehicle class and how the auto insurance industry and public at large have reacted to it.

Development & use of driverless cars
According to Carnegie Mellon University, the college’s Robotics Institute developed the first feasible prototypes of autonomous motor vehicles in 1984. Yet it wasn’t until the early and mid 2010s that driverless cars had any presence on the road. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) noted Nevada was the first state to legally permit driverless cars on its public highways and streets in 2011. Since then California, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, North Dakota and Washington, D.C. have passed similar legislation.

By 2020, as many as 10 million vehicles with some level of driverless capability will be on the roads in America, according to online business magazine Business Insider. Also, Tech Source reported on data from a Boston Consulting Group study stating that 25% of driving will be done by driverless cars worldwide by 2030.

Accident likelihood and rates 
The IIHS’s report found that the widespread use of automated vehicles is likely to reduce crash rates by more than 50%. This does not mean driverless cars are foolproof. And it doesn’t mean these machines can eliminate or massively reduce auto accident numbers on their own. But when you consider (as The Washington Post reported) 94% of accidents are the result of human error, adding automation to the equation can have a notably positive effect.

While many of the big named manufacturers have stopped publicizing the number of crashes in which autonomous vehicles are involved, it is estimated that they range from several dozen to just over 100. Another data point: Driverless cars had a higher accident rate than human-operated vehicles when the two vehicle types were compared on a size-for-size proportional basis, according to a 2015 article in national newspaper USA Today.

Liability not with the driver?
The I.I.I. noted that the novelty of driverless cars, coupled with individual states’ having different insurance regulations, means coverage guidelines aren’t standardized throughout the U.S.. Automakers might find the burden of proof lies with them to point out that their technology wasn’t at fault – and that other parties in the crash or driver error caused the incident.

Business and finance magazine Forbes stated that several automobile manufacturers involved in autonomous vehicle development, including Google, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz, have claimed on record that they’ll make themselves the liable party in accidents involving their driverless cars. Others, such as Tesla (the maker of the only self-driving car to be involved in a fatal accident), have not accepted liability. In Tesla’s case, The New York Times reported that the manufacturer was cleared of responsibility after a federal investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deemed the vehicle’s system’s safe, categorizing the accident as human error.

Regardless of manufacturer stances, the I.I.I. predicted that liability laws are likely to change. They’ll need to accommodate claims arising from driverless car accidents, many of which will involve higher repair costs. This could involve a no-fault regulation that would compensate drivers while putting a cap on claim amounts.

Article From Selective Insurance