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Automated Cars: Cool Technology, but Who is Liable in a Car Accident?

As cars become more technologically advanced, more and more questions arise in terms of accidents, liability, and safety on roadways. Many new cars, trucks, and SUVs today come equipped with self-parking and braking capabilities. Furthermore, several car manufacturers have built and are testing self-driving vehicles. For example, Google-made cars have already taken the roads, as well as the first tractor-trailer approved to drive itself on Nevada highways that were created by Freightliner and Daimler.

But, how safe are these automated cars and will they actually reduce the number of accidents? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) seems to think so and strongly supports the new technology. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year as a result of traffic accidents and over 2 million more people are injured. The NHTSA believes that by reducing the role humans play in driving cars, accidents will greatly be reduced. However, just because vehicles can operate on their own does not mean that an experienced driver will no longer be needed behind the wheel. The best example used to refute that myth is an airplane pilot. Airplanes are filled with technology that practically let them fly by themselves (i.e. autopilot), but pilots have some of the most extensive training and experience that allow them to be able to operate a plane in the event autopilot fails. While most of the time technology works perfectly, it is far from perfect.

The biggest problems that we will face when most cars on the roads are automated will be driver engagement and who is liable in the event of an accident. If the car is able to perform all aspects of driving on its own, why would the “driver” need to remain engaged with the road and the surroundings? Distracted driving with texting and cell phone use will become even more rampant than today because people will not be required to actually “drive” and operate their vehicles. To combat this potential problem, some car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Tesla have special sensors that force a “driver” to prove they are engaged with the car every so often.

As to the other problem of liability in this new world of self-driving cars, will car manufacturers start being held liable instead of the “drivers?” While the number of human-caused accidents will likely decrease, the number of accidents caused by system errors will likely increase. If an accident is caused because of a technological error in the car, can the car manufacturer be held liable in a personal injury suit? That question remains to be seen. It is certainly very interesting to think about and we will see what happens in the future as more and more self-driving vehicles are allowed on the roads.

If you or a family member has been injured or killed in an accident caused by the fault or negligence of another person and would like to consult an experienced Maryland personal injury attorney for free, contact us at (855) 954-4141 to schedule an appointment at one of our office locations in Silver Spring or throughout Maryland or visit us online.