Are Self-Driving Cars Safer Than Human Drivers?

Image by falco from Pixabay

By now, you are probably aware of the trend towards automated vehicles.  Like it or not, self-driving cars are on their way to a street near you, if they aren’t there already.  But many are rightfully concerned about the safety issues that are plaguing the self-driving car industry right now.

As of now, studies suggest that self-driving cars are actually less safe on the roads today than fully human-operated vehicles.  The software involved in self-driving features is still developing and, as a result, contains flaws and struggles to account for changing road conditions.  Self-driving features also give operators a false sense of confidence that causes them to neglect their responsibilities behind the wheel.

If you are involved in an accident with a self-driving car, you may have the ability to file a personal injury lawsuit.  Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to file your suit against the other car’s driver or owner, the software company, or the car manufacturer.  You may decide to name more than one of these parties in your lawsuit.  We recommend that you get medical attention for your injuries immediately and then speak to a car accident attorney about your potential claim.

Safety Issues with Self-Driving Cars

As technology advances, self-driving cars are bound to become safer.  Today, however, available data suggests that self-driving cars actually have a higher accident rate than their human-operated counterparts.  Below are a few of the reasons why many have safety concerns about self-driving cars:

Passive Drivers

As of now, there are no fully autonomous self-driving cars on the road.  Self-driving cars actually have several different levels of autonomy, ranging from driver assistance programs to self-parking features to hands-free lane assistance.  However, all of the self-driving vehicles that are currently street-legal require human involvement in the driving process.  But drivers who purchase a “self-driving car” often feel less inclined to stay alert and present behind the wheel, leading to accidents.

Technology Issues

A 2020 study by researchers at AAA discovered troubling information about cars equipped with active driver assistance systems.  The study determined that these systems encountered at least some kind of issue for every 8 miles traveled on average.  Most of these issues were related to lane assistance systems.  Drivers might find themselves suddenly in close proximity to other vehicles or guardrails while traveling at highway speeds.  Further, systems that automate highway braking and acceleration were found to randomly disengage, often to the surprise of the driver.

Complexities of Real-Life Driving

Everyone who drives understands that the rules of the road go way beyond just stopping at red lights and driving the speed limit.  Particularly in cities, where roadwork and double-parked cars are commonplace, a driver must take more information into account than whether they are within their own lane.  The artificial intelligence found in current self-driving cars cannot hope to account for these conditions, at least not today.

What if You Were in an Accident with a Self-Driving Car?

If you were injured in an accident involving a self-driving car, you may have the opportunity to recover compensation from the party responsible for the accident.  In order to succeed, you will have to show that the responsible party’s negligence or recklessness was the cause of the accident that left you injured.

In many ways, suing for injuries sustained in a self-driving car accident is the same as the process for suing after a regular car accident.  You must prove that the negligence occurred, that it caused the accident, and that the accident resulted in injury.  The key difference is identifying who was at fault and why.

Liability for Self-Driving Car Accidents

Determining who is responsible for a car accident involving a self-driving car is more complicated than it would be for a typical car accident.  This is because there are a number of parties that may bear liability.  Depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances of the accident, you and your car accident lawyers could decide to name more than one defendant in your case if multiple parties were responsible.  Below are just a few of the potential parties who might be legally at fault for a self-driving car accident:

Vehicle “Driver”

Even with self-driving vehicles, the cause of the accident can still be human error.  If a self-driving car does not have its autonomous driving features enabled, it functions like any other car.  In that case, the driver is at fault, just as they would be in any other accident case.

If the car’s self-driving features are working correctly, a driver could be liable for an accident if they fail to follow the system’s directions.  For example, many operators of self-driving cars try to nap, eat, or read behind the wheel, putting others in danger during emergencies.  Drivers could also be responsible if they fail to notice that the self-driving feature has disengaged.  Once autonomous mode turns off, the driver is responsible for conducting the vehicle safely.

Software Manufacturer

Self-driving cars require incredibly complex software systems in order to function as they were designed.  But we know that this software is not perfect as it exists today.  If any part of the software contains malfunctions, that can put people on the road in serious danger and create liability for the technology company that was responsible for creating it.  For example, autonomous mode is only supposed to engage while a driver is in the driver’s seat for most vehicles.  If the programming allows the function to turn on without a driver in the seat, that can put everyone at risk.

Car Manufacturer

Car manufacturers are responsible for meshing the self-driving software with the actual function of the car.  The software could be working perfectly fine, but if the car’s features fail to integrate correctly, the whole system is flawed.  Car manufacturers will bear the liability for any defects in the vehicle’s operation.  For example, sensors and wiring must be in working order to allow the self-driving car’s programming to function properly and safely.