Self-Driving Car Accidents Should Concern You

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By Marcus Fernandez

The launch of programs by Google and other companies to develop a driverless vehicle once likely sounded like fiction. Yet, a decade later self-driving vehicles are traveling the roads of cities across America. It was inevitable that the discussion would turn to self-driving car accidents. If the thought of sitting in a car that drives itself makes you uneasy, you aren’t alone. In fact, 56% of Americans responding to a survey about self-driving cars said they would not feel safe riding in one.

It does not help to improve public confidence when people die in accidents involving driverless vehicles. Moreover, as in an accident that killed a Florida driver, when drivers rely too heavily on semi-autonomous systems. Anyone venturing onto a public road or highway needs to have an understanding of self-driving cars and what they should do in the event of being injured in an accident.

How many self-driving cars are in use?

Approximately 1,400 self-driving cars travel the nation’s roads in tests conducted by 80 different companies. These fully self-driving vehicles operate without any oversight or control by a driver. They should not be confused with more than 200,000 cars and trucks that feature limited self-driving capabilities.

About 7% of cars manufactured and sold each year come equipped with systems that independently control functions such as steering and braking. Unlike a fully autonomous vehicle, cars with self-driving systems require the presence of a driver to monitor their operation. They take over control of the vehicle when circumstances require it.

What happens when things go wrong?

When self-driving car accidents occur, the results have been devastating. A recent accident further proved that a car’s self-driving system, known as the autopilot feature, is no substitute for human awareness. The vehicle tragically crashed into a semi-trailer moments after it’s autopilot feature was engaged, killing the driver. 

According to preliminary investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, the driver of the car activated the self-driving feature and removed his hands from the steering wheel 10 seconds before the crash. Neither the driver nor the self-driving feature took any action to brake or steer clear of the crash. The car was traveling at 68 mph. The collision is similar to one that occurred two years earlier when the same make vehicle also crashed into a truck.

The NTSB investigated the death of a woman struck by a self-driving car while walking her bicycle across the street. It found that several factors contributed to the accident, which involved a vehicle being tested on the road by a ride-hailing company. Contributing factors included the following:

  • The vehicle operator was distracted by watching a TV show on a cellphone. They failed to notice the cyclist until it was too late. They no longer had time to take control of the car from the self-driving system.
  • The car service company failed to monitor its drivers. If they had done so, they could’ve potentially prevented behaviors that distracted operators from the road.
  • Due to system programming, the self-driving system was unable to detect and react when a pedestrian crossed a street outside a crosswalk.

Media reports stated that 36 accidents involving vehicles operated by the same company occurred before the one which killed the pedestrian.

Tampa self-driving car accidents and your right to compensation for injuries

Legislation allowing fully self-driving vehicles to operate on Florida roads was signed into law by the governor earlier this year. This essentially opened the door for testing of fully autonomous vehicles in the Sunshine State. It did not, however, change how liability is determined if someone is injured in a car crash.

If you suffer an injury in an accident with a self-driving vehicle, contact the police to have them investigate. Additionally,  have them prepare an accident report. Depending upon the circumstances of the accident, you may have the right to sue the negligent party who caused the accident. This includes the owner of the vehicle, its driver, or the person monitoring the vehicle’s self-driving system as its operator.

An accident caused by the failure of a vehicle’s self-driving technology could expose its manufacturer to liability for damages. Any injured occupants of a self-driving car may also have recourse against its manufacturer. They may be held liable if a system designed to protect them fails to function properly.

Getting legal advice to preserve your right to compensation

Obtaining legal advice and representation by an experienced Tampa personal injury attorney is essential for victims of self-driving car accidents. An attorney reviewing the facts surrounding an accident may help to identify the parties at fault in causing it. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation.