Self-driving cars on a highway.

When Self-Driving Cars Kill: The Legal Implications

Self-driving cars offer a variety of advantages, according to advocates and manufacturers. Proponents claim that self-driving vehicles make roads safer by eliminating human error behind the wheel that often leads to a car crash. However, what happens when a self-driving car causes an accident? Who is responsible when self-driving cars kill? Our California car accident attorney can answer that question for you.

Liability in California Car Accidents

Most car accidents are caused by human error of some type. Common types of human error that lead to car crashes include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Speeding
  • Drunk driving or buzzed driving
  • Fatigued or drowsy driving
  • Aggressive driving
  • Following too closely
  • Running red lights or stop signs
  • Failing to yield the right of way

When a driver makes an error that leads to a traffic accident, whether the error was intentional or not, you can hold that driver liable for damages caused by the accident. However, who do you hold liable if the car was driving?

Holding Self-Driving Cars Responsible for Traffic Deaths

The fault for an accident involving a self-driving vehicle may be difficult to determine. An attorney begins by investigating the crash to determine the exact cause of the accident. Fault could be attributed to several factors. Therefore, an attorney may retain one or more experts to help with the investigation, including experts in autonomous vehicles. 

Once an attorney determines the exact cause of the crash, fault can be assigned to one or more parties who contributed to the cause of the crash. Identifying those parties and gathering evidence proving fault is essential for building a strong case for wrongful death. 

Most car accident claims involving self-driving vehicles involve proving the parties involved were negligent. Negligence claims involving proving three key legal elements:

  • The party owed a duty of care to the victim
  • The party breached the duty of care through its actions or inactions; and,
  • The breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of death or harm to the victim.

In a self-driving car accident, the negligence of one or more parties may have led to the cause of the car accident.

Who Is Liable in an Accident with Self-Driving Cars?

If the vehicle involved in a partially autonomous vehicle, the operator may be to blame for the car crash. Viral videos of people sleeping behind the wheel of autonomous vehicles exhibit the degree of recklessness of some individuals. 

Drivers of semi-autonomous or self-driving vehicles are required to take full control of the vehicle in an emergency, including using the brakes, steering wheel, and accelerator to avoid a crash. If a driver fails to take control of the vehicle if alerted to a failure of the autonomous technology, the driver could be at fault. Likewise, a driver who takes control and causes an accident by overriding the system could be held liable. 

Driverless vehicles use a variety of systems to operate the vehicle, including computers, radar, sensors, and cameras. The systems work together to control the vehicle’s steering, speed, and braking. However, these systems can fail. They may have defects that could cause a car accident. 

If a self-driving vehicle causes death or injury, the manufacturer and other parties could face a product liability claim. Parties who design, manufacture, and sell defective products can be held liable for injuries caused by the product. Therefore, victims of accidents involving self-driving vehicles could potentially have a product liability claim in addition to a negligence claim. 

California Personal Injury Attorney

The laws related to self-driving vehicles are likely to evolve as vehicles become more advanced and technology changes. Because accidents involving self-driving vehicles may involve multiple parties and multiple areas of law, consulting a California car accident attorney as soon as possible after an accident is strongly encouraged.