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Who Is Responsible For The Crash Of A Driverless Car?

Robert J. Adams and Associates June 8, 2015

The current trend in technology has made driverless cars a reality. These driverless cars are made with the aim of avoiding car accidents, but as it stands now, there is still a long way to go. Currently, there is a limited testing and deployment of these autonomous cars especially due to numerous accidents they have caused recently, including a fatal crash. Due to these accidents, new liability laws needs to be enacted, but the major challenge is that there is no clear person to carry the blame. In a scenario where a crash is caused by a driverless car, how will a lawsuit be filed and who will attend the hearing? The car or its manufacturer?


The transportation department has recently passed a regulation, whereby the computer of a driverless car should be considered as the car’s driver, which makes the situation even more confusing. According to the existing law, there is no basis under which a computer can be held liable for an accident since it is just a machine. You might argue that a personal injury lawyer should be hired to defend the computer and injured car occupants, but how will the claims be justified if you can’t interact with the computer? If in any case the driverless car is sued for causing an accident, there will be multiple defendants including the software designer, vehicle’s owner and also the manufacturer. This means that the case can drastically change from being a typical auto accident case into a liability caused by design defect, which makes it very challenging for an accident attorney. The injured parties are at a significant disadvantage since it is very difficult for a personal injury lawyer to prove a product liability case as compared to a negligence case. The verdicts, judgment, and settlement of a product liability case are, however, higher than those of vehicle accident negligence cases.


There are some accident cases which involve self-driving cars which are semi-autonomous. Such vehicles can be operated either by a physical driver or using a computer. The physical presence of a driver is vital since they are supposed to take control in case the computer faults. If an accident occurs, there is a shared liability between the driver and the auto-pilot system which was active during the crash. The driver can be sued for auto accident negligence while on the other hand, the manufacturer can be sued for the liability caused by design defect.


As of 2017, the Google driverless car has been involved in 14 accidents, 13 of which were faults of the other drivers. The first accident caused by this car happened in February 2017 in California. The Google SUV had initially stopped after detecting sandbags in its path, and while trying to merge back into the traffic, it crashed into a bus. According to Google engineers, the car seemingly thought that the bus would slow down.

Evidently, the driverless technology is still very new, and some states have not yet legalized it. In various states, the effectiveness of this technology is still being tested especially when it comes to road safety. The most controversial arguments as far as driverless technology is concerned, revolves around liability claims in case of an accident. Accident attorneys are still debating on who should be held liable when a driverless car causes an accident. Is it the computer, the manufacturer, the car owner or the software designer?