Today, many cars have technologies that brake for you if you are about to hit another car; that alert you if a vehicle is in the lane next to you; that park for you; and that help you back up. There are some cars that do even more for you and that have autopilot or self-driving modes.
These autopilot systems are supposedly going to revolutionize the way people get around. In particular, they will hopefully help to significantly reduce the chances of an auto accident occurring since semi-autonomous cars will make smart and safe choices and won't fall victim to human error.
It remains to be seen how safe these cars are over the long-term. Early evidence suggests that they may have fewer accidents per miles driven compared with cars driven by people. However, accidents have happened in auto-pilot cars, including a recent fatal crash in a Tesla. When accidents occur, it becomes important to determine who is responsible for damages: the driver or the manufacturer of the autopilot system.
LA Times reported that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted an investigation into the recent fatal Tesla crash and into other collisions which have occurred involving Tesla's technology.
The fatal accident happened when the Tesla went underneath a big-rig that was on a highway and making a left turn. The 40-year-old driver of the Tesla was allegedly watching a Harry Potter movie as his car drove on autopilot. He was killed in the accident.
In response to investigating this crash and the other more minor incidents, NHTSA stressed the importance of drivers continuing to pay attention even when autopilot systems are activated. Ultimately, it remains a driver's obligation to avoid crashes. Tesla also explains drivers remain responsible. Both the on-screen menus and instructions specify the important role human drivers have to continue to play.
If this technology is intended only to assists a driver in avoiding accidents, then when a driver uses the technology irresponsibly and fails to pay attention, the driver typically will be the one liable for losses from a car crash.
However, technology is advancing and it is expected that one day soon, manufactures of self-driving cars will release systems that essentially take over the driving process. Scientific American warns that: "When a computerized driver replaces a human one, experts say the companies behind the software and hardware sit in the legal liability chain-not the car owner or the person's insurance company. Eventually, and inevitably, the carmakers will have to take the blame."
This means crash victims could soon be able to go to after manufacturers of self-driving vehicle. This kind of case can be complicated because the law is still evolving, so victims of an accident need to talk with an experienced car accident attorney for help pursuing a damage claim after a crash.