Who is to Blame if a Driverless Car Crashes?

Posted on Jul 05, 2016

Studies show that 75% of drivers would not get into a driverless car and 80% of drivers do not trust them. But never the less, driverless cars are expected to gradually become more and more acceptable between now and the next fifteen years. In 2013, the Eno Center for Transportation performed a study that showed that if only 10% of the population started riding in driverless cars, they would help save more than 1,000 lives per year. If the percentage of users rose to 90%, it is estimated driverless cars would save 22,000 lives per year. These results would be fantastic and completely change everyday life for thousands of people. People who are under the influence of alcohol could hop in their car and have it take them wherever they need to go, preventing an accident caused by drunk driving. But that does not mean an accident would never occur, and when it does, who do we blame?

            It is easy to think we should let these liability norms evolve over time. When accidents occur, lawyers can assign fault to the person who controlled the manufacturing or had the broadest knowledge of the part that malfunctioned. Driverless car makers will have to invest in expensive insurance polices to protect them from the risk of programming issues.

            But if crashes occur and victims seek to sue the maker of these driverless vehicles, America will lose its “loser-pays” rule, which means the loser of the lawsuit, must pay for the damages. It will no longer be necessary for drivers who were involved in a collision to sue each other if a driverless vehicle is to blame for the damages. This will cause many lawsuits to be cast upon the manufacturing company if there is any problem. If there too many lawsuits, driverless cars, which could potentially help people, may no longer be safe to use.

            Congress may need to consider creating a procedure that ensures victims of driverless car wrecks will be compensated for their losses if many cases are taken to court. It is important that using driverless vehicles is not discouraged even if there are a few lawsuits because of the potential benefit driverless cars could create. 

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