Self-driving vehicles are on the fast track. However, many safety and liability
issues remain unresolved, particularly for semi-autonomous cars that still
require driver involvement.
While most major automakers are developing “autonomous” vehicles,
most of the models that are currently being tested still require some
level of human interaction. These so-called “Level 3” vehicles
can perform many driving operations autonomously; however, they require
drivers to take over if a crash is imminent. We are concerned that dividing
the responsibilities between technology and drivers could be a recipe
Crash Risk of Semi-Autonomous Vehicles
Not all autonomous vehicles are created equal. Under the scale created
by the Society of Automotive Engineers and adopted by the Department of
Transportation, Level 5 vehicles are truly self-driving and do not require
any driver involvement. Meanwhile, Level 3 involves “conditional
automation,” in which “the human driver will respond appropriately
to a request to intervene.”
The concern with Level 3 vehicles is that drivers may be required to take
over control of the vehicle with as little as 10 seconds’ notice.
If drivers are not paying attention, they may not be able to respond quickly
enough to prevent a crash.
Testing of semi-autonomous vehicles confirms the risk is real. The
phenomenon is referred to as “snoozing while cruising.” Engineers testing the vehicles are falling asleep or becoming distracted,
even despite the use of bells, whistles and vibrations intended to keep
them focused. As a result, they are not prepared to retake control of
the vehicle in an emergency.
“There’s evidence to suggest that Level 3 may show an increase
in traffic crashes,” Nidhi Kalra, co-director of the Rand Center
for Decision Making Under Uncertainty, testified before Congress. “I
don’t think there’s enough evidence to suggest that it should
be prohibited at this time, but it does pose safety concerns.”
Assigning Legal Liability in an Autonomous Vehicle Accident
Although semi-autonomous vehicles pose safety concerns, many auto manufacturers
are hesitant to hand over control to computers. One of the main reasons is
liability for a motor vehicle crash. Because semi-autonomous cars require drivers to be attentive and aware
of the surrounding environment, they may ultimately be held responsible
for a crash.
It remains unclear whether the legal responsibility will shift away from
the driver once fully autonomous vehicles are on the road. As self-driving
vehicles continue to be developed, the distinction between autonomous
versus semi-autonomous vehicles will significantly impact the determination
of fault in a motor vehicle crash and whether the liability lies with
the driver or the vehicle's designer/manufacturer. As San Diego personal
injury attorneys, we are closely monitoring this issue.
If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a dangerous
or defective motor vehicle, don’t hesitate to contact
a San Diego injury lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free