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Navigating the Blurred Lines: Self-Driving Cars & The Accountability Puzzle

Posted by Terri B. Kalker | Oct 20, 2023 | 0 Comments

Imagine sitting back, sipping your morning coffee, and reading the news while your car navigates the highway. It's the vision self-driving cars promise. But as these vehicles begin to share our roads, they bring a burning question: When things go wrong, who's held accountable?

From Science Fiction to Reality:

While they once belonged to the realm of sci-fi, self-driving cars have now crossed over into reality. However, the rise of these technological marvels also brings a labyrinth of legal dilemmas, particularly when an accident unfolds. In this new era, the traditional finger-pointing at the other driver isn't quite so straightforward.

A Californian Case to Consider:

A recent case in California stands out as a potential harbinger of things to come. A Tesla owner was charged with manslaughter following a tragic accident while using the vehicle's self-driving feature. Notably, the aftermath included a civil suit launched against both the Tesla owner and Tesla itself by the grieving family of the victim. The driver eventually entered a no-contest plea to two vehicular manslaughter counts, resulting in a two-year probation sentence.

This case's outcomes could very well set a benchmark for future autonomous vehicle-related incidents. Alternatively, such high-profile cases could serve as the catalyst for new legislation tailored to this technological age.

Levels of Automation: A Brief Overview:

Level 0: Solely driver-operated. No automation.

Level 1: Basic assistance, e.g., power steering.adaptive cruise control. 

Level 2: Semi-automated, like cruise control, but the driver remains engaged.

Level 3: Cars can function autonomously, but drivers must be vigilant.

Level 4: Vehicles self-operate under specific conditions, with optional driver intervention.

Level 5: The apex of self-driving—vehicles operate without any human oversight.

Currently, vehicles up to Level 3 are the most common.

The Accountability Matrix:

The Human Operator: All autonomous vehicles today require an overseer, who, if inattentive, could be deemed liable during accidents.

The Vehicle Manufacturer: As with traditional incidents, if technical malfunctions contribute to a mishap, the car's manufacturer might be in the legal crosshairs.

The Tech Designer: Self-driving cars run on intricate software and sensors. If a flaw in these tools results in an accident, those behind their design and implementation might face scrutiny.

Complexities of Comparative Negligence:

In this evolving landscape, determining blame is no longer black and white. Is it the fault with the operator, the software, the hardware, or a mix? This murky realm can lead to claims based on comparative negligence, where responsibility is shared.

As we embrace the future with autonomous vehicles, it's essential to recognize and prepare for the intricate legal maze accompanying them.It's not just about driving on roads now; it's also about understanding people's stories and changing laws.

About the Author

Terri B. Kalker

I have been successfully defending motorists accused of all types of moving violations. Regardless of the charge, we realize it is important to you and we treat it so. My staff are all professional and at your service as soon as you call. We maintain extended business hours for your convenience. ...


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