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Driverless Cars & Personal Injury: Who’s at Fault?

With driver-assistance technologies emerging as the latest competitive edge between auto makers, it stands to reason that driverless cars cannot be too far off the horizon. While this notion is still just beginning to take hold of the tech sector, it behooves those in the active practice of managing, mitigating and minimizing risk to consider the personal injury and negligence implications of an auto collision involving one or more computer-operated driving machines.

The concept of driver-assistance began with the novel idea of the back-up camera: practical, helpful and not too overpowering of the driver’s own instincts. From there, however, we see the introduction of self-adjusting mirrors, automatic brakes and even cars that can parallel park themselves.

Nonetheless, the doctrine of negligence is based upon the notion that a person either commits – or fails to commit – an act that results in injury to another person or property, and the law has a long way to go to catch up to the idea that vehicles can now “think” for themselves and respond to outside stimuli according to their own pre-programmed understanding of how roadways work.

As driverless cars transition from something of science fiction to a burgeoning reality, we ought to carefully consider the obvious: In the event of an accident, whose fault it is anyway?

Tech-savvy Automaker Takes a Shot at It

Technologically-savvy Tesla, Inc. – fittingly based in Silicon Valley, California – has come up with a few options for those who are kept up at night by the idea of a computer riding parallel on I-95 at 70 miles per hour. For instance, its newer models come equipped with a driverless option for passing a slower motorist on a multi-lane highway – which allows the driver to initiate the navigation by simply engaging the turn signal.

However, it is that latter detail -- requiring the engagement of the turn signal prior to the maneuver -- that Tesla believes will help keep liability right where it belongs: with the driver. In other words, the simple movement of illuminating the turn signal requires the forethought of the driver, and can result in liability if the maneuver results in a collision.

Still a Long Way to Go

Despite a few novel ideas hitting the pavement, the concept of a totally driverless vehicle will be met with untold pushback from state and federal regulatory agencies, as well as safety advocacy groups concerned with the reliability of onboard software – and the potential for increased vulnerability from a security standpoint. What’s more, automakers will – at least at the outset – have to consider the likelihood of a significant rise in product liability actions following any auto collision involving a driverless vehicle.

With the amount of technology in play and the complexity of the software needed to accomplish the task of safely traveling from Point A to Point B, the driverless model will likely not hit the mainstream car lot for years to come – which may be a welcomed delay for the many Westchester County car accident attorneys dreading the unpredictable intersection of machinery and mayhem.

Contact a Westchester County Lawyer as Soon as Possible

If you were recently injured in an auto accident and would like to speak to a reputable and experienced personal injury attorney, please contact Lynch Schwab & Gasparini as soon as possible by calling 914-304-4353.

Posted on July 22, 2015 in Personal Injury