Legal Liability in Car Accidents Involving Autonomous Vehicles

Many people who hear the phrase “driverless cars” imagine roads filled with vehicles that are totally autonomous, with no driver assistance needed. While it may be decades before technology ever brings us to that point, there is still an immediate need to determine the laws of liability in vehicle crashes when it comes to the current – and future – driverless vehicle models available and in development or testing mode.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) currently has designated six different stages of autonomous vehicles, based on how much or how little human involvement is needed.

  • Stage Zero – No automation. When a vehicle is classified as stage zero, the vehicle offers no self-driving features and needs a driver for any operation at all. This stage is where the majority of vehicles on the road are at.
  • Stage One – Driver assistance is needed. Vehicles that are classified as stage one do have some automated features that help the driver, such as acceleration and steering. Despite these features, the driver is still required to remain focused and aware of the activity and road conditions around them. Drivers are still required to use their foot to accelerate (or ease off acceleration) and use their hands to operate the steering wheel.
  • Stage Two – Partial automation. Vehicles that are classified as stage two usually have automated systems that gather information about their surroundings. The automated system has more control over acceleration/deceleration of the vehicle and steering. While the vehicle is doing much of the work, drivers are still required to keep their hands on the steering wheel.
  • Stage Three – Conditional automation. Drivers in stage three vehicles are still required for any interventions that may be necessary, but the vehicle itself is operating on a high autonomous level. Traveling on roads such as interstates and highways is appropriate for stage three vehicles.
  • Stage Four – High automation. Vehicles classified as stage four are almost entirely self-driving and can stay in that mode for the entire trip. There are still limitations, however, on the type of terrain the vehicle can travel in. While highways are no problem for stage four vehicles, rural roads would be more difficult and would require driver intervention. This is referred to as operational design domain (ODD).
  • Stage 5 – Full automation. Vehicles classified as stage 5 are equipped with artificial intelligence (A.I.) that can operate the vehicle in all environments and scenarios. Although this is a stage designated by the NHTSA, it is highly unlikely that the development of autonomous vehicles will ever reach this level.

Who Is Liable?

Accidents involving self-driving vehicles raise many legal questions when it comes to liability and as technology becomes more advanced, states will need to tackle these legal issues.

Contact a Virginia Personal Injury Attorney

Unfortunately, no matter how safe a driver we may be, there are always negligent drivers on the road who fail to adhere to safe driving practices. If you are injured in a crash caused by another driver, a Virginia car accident attorney can assist you in obtaining financial compensation for any losses you have suffered as a result of those injuries. These losses include medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, permanent disability, scarring, and more.

Contact the legal team from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp today to set up a free and confidential case evaluation.