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Driverless Car Accident Lawyers in Phoenix

By Zachary Mushkatel on

Man operating self-driving car.

Driverless cars are the future. Companies are testing these vehicles in Arizona more than ever before, and they are getting closer and closer to making them widely available to the public. For instance, The Arizona Republic reports that Waymo (formerly called the Google Self-Driving Car Project) has tested autonomous vehicles in the Chandler area since 2016, and in December 2018, it announced that it would launch a paid ride-share program.

The knowledgeable car accident attorneys at Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC, believe it is crucial to keep pace with emerging technology and the latest developments in the law. Here, we highlight some of the benefits and problems with driverless cars. We also discuss the issues that can arise when one of these automobiles causes an accident that injures another. After all, who should be held responsible when a car has no driver?

What Are the Benefits of Driverless Cars?

Based on an analysis of crash data from 2005 to 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that drivers are the “critical reason” for 94 percent of the crashes that occur in our country. Drivers can make errors such as driving too fast, following too closely, running through red lights or turning in front of others. They often make these errors due to careless decisions such as driving while they are impaired by alcohol or drugs or driving while they are talking on a cell phone or texting. Self-driving cars can partially or wholly remove human error from the equation and, as many people believe, they can make our roads safer.

Currently, five levels of autonomous vehicles can be found on the road. Levels 1 and 2 have minimal automation of critical functions such as cruise control and electronic stability control. In Level 3 cars, a computer has full control of all safety-critical functions, but the car

allows the driver to take back control with enough warning time. This is the most autonomous type of vehicle currently on the road today. Level 4 is the driverless car of the future. In this type of vehicle, a computer does all driving and monitors safety throughout the entire trip.

“[S]ince computers never text while driving, never get sleepy, and never drive drunk, [autonomous vehicles] are expected to drastically reduce the frequency and severity of traffic accidents,” a Florida State University researcher noted.

Are the Problems with Self-Driving Cars?

As with any new technology, autonomous vehicles still have problems that developers will need to address before these cars can be widely available to the public. Oddly enough, one major issue is how other motorists respond to these vehicles. For instance, autonomous vehicles are programmed to respond in a certain way to their environment. If a vehicle detects a pedestrian crossing the road, the vehicle will stop. As a Wired report indicates, a problem is that another motorist may slam into the rear of the stopped self-driving vehicle.

The cars may also have design and/or manufacturing defects. Companies pack a great amount of technology into self-driving vehicles. If one flaw arises, it can cause the vehicle’s safety features to fail and lead to a crash. Also, adverse weather conditions and poor road conditions like faded lane lines may affect the technology in these vehicles and lead to problems.

Who Is Responsible in a Car Accident Involving a Driverless Car?

Self-driving cars can still get into crashes. For example, in March 2018, an Uber self-driving test car that was in autonomous mode, with a human driver at the wheel, struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, according to Reuters. It was the first fatal accident in the country which involved an autonomous vehicle.

Unfortunately, determining legal responsibility for these crashes remains a gray area of the law. As Fortune reports, every accident involving a self-driving car, so far, has been resolved through a settlement, including the Tempe accident. So, to date, no court has ruled on liability in one of these crashes.

Generally speaking, if the human who is operating an autonomous (or semi-autonomous) vehicle commits some act of negligence that causes an accident, then a victim should be able to sue that person for damages. In this sense, an accident involving an autonomous vehicle would be no different from other types of crashes.

However, if a design or manufacturing defect caused the accident, liability would likely shift from the driver to the developer of the defective technology. For instance, liability could attach to the company that produced certain software or hardware which failed and caused the crash, or it may attach to an automaker who negligently installed the technology into a vehicle.

In Arizona, a 2018 Executive Order provides some guidance. The order allows a fully autonomous (Level 4) vehicle to be on a public road in Arizona – even without an operator – as long as an individual (or company) provides a written statement which acknowledges that the vehicle meets all state and federal regulations for motor vehicles, including titling, registration and insurance requirements. Also, the vehicle must be able to achieve a “minimal risk condition” if a failure occurs with its automated driving system. For instance, if the system fails, the vehicle must be able to come to a complete stop or otherwise achieve a “reasonably safe state.”

So, if a self-driving vehicle caused an accident that injured another because it failed to meet those above requirements, it is possible that the individual or company who submitted the written statement (or failed to submit one) could be held liable in a personal injury lawsuit. However, it is important to note that this remains an unsettled area of the law.

Get Help from Our Phoenix Car Accident Attorneys

At Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC, we will continue to keep a close watch on developments in autonomous vehicle technology and related legal developments in Arizona, and we will be prepared to protect the rights of those injured in accidents involving one of these vehicles. To discuss how we can assist you, contact us today.