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How Autonomous Vehicles Will Change Tort Law

On Behalf of | Sep 5, 2018 | Legal Resources

In recent years, prominent companies such as Google’s Alphabet, Uber and Tesla have heavily invested in the development of self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles. The rise of autonomous vehicles has led many to question the legal implications that these vehicles will have on tort and insurance law. Here, the product liability attorneys at the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos discuss potential changes to tort law in response to autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous Vehicles Today

Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary, Waymo, recently disclosed that its autonomous vehicles have already spanned across 25 cities and completed nine million miles of fully-automated driving on public roads. While Waymo’s autonomous vehicles are still under testing, their program Early Riders allows citizens to use Waymo’s self-driving cars to go to places they frequent often like school or work and share feedback on their experiences.

Waymo’s autonomous vehicles save information from each trip taken in a shared programming file so that the entire Waymo fleet can learn together to better analyze future driving environments and potential issues.

Although Uber and Tesla are making similar advancements, autonomous vehicles aren’t predicted to become mainstream until 15 to 20 years from now. In the meantime, they are continuing to gain traction as systems improve and the public’s general understanding of these vehicles develops.

Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles

The potential safety benefits of autonomous vehicles may turn out to be tremendous considering that human error accounts for over 90% of all motor accidents in the United States. Self-driving vehicles could help to decrease some of the most common—and deadly—types of accidents, including drunk driving, texting while driving and falling asleep behind the wheel. In addition, autonomous vehicles potentially eliminate the number of accidents caused by general driving distraction.

The benefits that autonomous vehicles potentially offer for society are promising. Fewer accidents mean reduced costs for insurance and transportation infrastructure and a reduced impact on our environment. Ideally, autonomous transportation would also help to eliminate traffic and commute times for millions of citizens, while simultaneously providing them with more time to work or relax while on the road.

Liability Changes

To date, automotive products liability law has adapted to cover new technologies as they enter the stream of commerce. At one time, airbags, seatbelts and cruise control capabilities were considered new technologies that influenced tort law, and autonomous vehicles will likely follow suit as they become more common.

However, due to the complexities of autonomous vehicles, they may have a larger impact on tort law compared to the aforementioned innovations. Advances in autonomous technology may eventually shift liability for crashes away from the driver and onto the manufacturer.

The shift in liability would likely be gradual, rather than instant. As technology improves and transitions from tools meant to assist drivers such as auto braking systems and lane sensors to fully automated vehicles where no driver attention is needed, the fault will lie with the manufacturer of the vehicle rather than the driver for the following reasons:

The Vehicle May Not Function as Intended

In this case, manufacturers would be liable for accidents that occurred if the product failed to perform as marketed or advertised. The false or misleading marketing of any product may be considered grounds to file a claim of negligence in the event of any harm or danger brought onto the consumer.

The Information on the Autonomous Vehicle is Unclear

In the case of informational defects, manufacturers would be liable if they were negligent when providing what should be safe and accurate instructions to consumers. There may be grounds to file a negligence claim if there was a failure to warn consumers of potential risks.

The Vehicle May Have a Design Defect

The manufacturer would be held liable if it is found that the design choice was improper or negligently selected. Evidence must demonstrate that the design choice made by the manufacturer was defective, and there was a safer alternative design that was not cost prohibitive and could have been implemented. If these factors could be proven, there may be grounds to file a products liability or negligence claim against the manufacturer.

Consult the Product Liability Attorneys at The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos

As the legal landscape begins to adapt to autonomous vehicles, it is important to understand the changes and how they may affect all drivers on the road. The product liability attorneys at the law offices of Peter G. Angelos have years of experience defending the rights of those who have suffered damages due to another’s negligence and have comprehensive knowledge of product liability laws. If you or a loved one has been involved in an car accident involving an autonomous vehicle, contact the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos for a consultation today.