Autonomous Car Crashes: Who Will Be To Blame?

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Autonomous cars seem set to be part of our lives pretty soon, and for that reason suitable legislation is critical in order to assess the party to blame in an accident. The contents of an in-depth article on the topic called "Sue My Car Not Me: Products Liability And Accidents Involving Autonomous Vehicles" by Jeffrey K. Gurney, from the University of South Carolina's School of Law, attempts to propose guidelines for the new laws.

Gurney argues that autonomous vehicle manufacturers should assume responsibility when such a vehicle is involved in a crash in autonomous mode, since it would be the vehicle that probably caused the accident. He has classified vehicle ‘drivers' into four categories as well: the Distracted Driver; the Diminished Capabilities Driver; the Disabled Driver, and the Attentive Driver, each with different levels of accountability when it comes to assessing an accident, as explained a little further on.

Let's take a look at what he means by these four scenarios of driver types. The Distracted Driver is one who is purposely not paying attention to the road, and depends on the autonomous nature of the car completely. Next comes the Diminished Capabilities Driver who is a vehicle user whose driving skills are diminished because of reasons like being elderly, a minor or intoxicated. Third is the Disabled Driver who cannot drive a traditional vehicle because of a physical handicap such as blindness or an amputated limb. Lastly, the Attentive Driver is one who observes the road and its surroundings in the same way as a traditional car driver would.

Gurney recommends that the Disabled Driver should not be at fault for an accident because his disabilities do not allow him to prevent an accident. The Attentive Driver, on the other hand, should be held responsible in the event of a crash, unless suitable evidence is presented that absolves him of liability for the accident.

The Diminished Capabilities Driver could be held liable for a crash depending on the condition causing the diminished capabilities and what the driver was doing at the time. Such a driver will, however, not have similar reflexes or the ability to prevent the crash as the Attentive Driver. The Distracted Driver's liability depends on whether the person was able to realise that an accident was about to occur and if there was time enough to prevent it. If it is found that the Distracted Driver did indeed have time to prevent the crash, but acted negligently in doing so, he could face some liability.

Thus, while Gurney argues that manufacturers of the autonomous technology in cars should be responsible if the car crashes in autonomous mode, manufacturers are not left entirely without support of the proposed new laws. To read Gurney's article in full, click here.

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