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Chicago Personal Injury Blog

Robotic Cars and the Future of Auto Accident Liability

Jul 29 2014, by Jared Staver in Personal Injury

Every day, completely automatic driverless cars seem a closer reality. Google revealed its latest model in May. This driverless car was totally computer-driven. It did not even have pedals or a steering wheel. Although the time when these cars populate our streets seems far off into the future, automatic cars could totally change the personal injury field.

Currently there are almost 35,000 deaths and 400,000 catastrophic injuries every year in the United States that are related to car accidents. Determining who is at fault for the accident is a key aspect of collecting an insurance settlement or a personal injury claim. This becomes more complicated with so-called driverless cars.

If computer-driven cars work as intended, they could help prevent these accidents with their faster reflexes, logical judgments, lack of distractions and avoidance of many of the flaws that humans have when driving. However, no technology is perfect. It is unlikely that robotic cars could eliminate all accidents even if there were no normal cars on the road. When you consider that robotic cars will be the minority on the roads for years to come, it is important to consider how a computer will react to another person’s actions.

Determining fault when the car has no driver

Even if there is a person seated in the driver’s seat of the car, it is difficult to assign them blame for an accident if they have no way of manipulating the path of the vehicle. Software bugs, misaligned sensors, unexpected obstacles, improper servicing, misuse, and other defects can cause a car to go off course. In these situations, who is responsible? You could argue that it would be the manufacturer, the person who programmed the car’s route, or the car’s owner, but the law is not yet ready to deal with these questions.

The Department of Public Safety has said that a self-driven car will always have an “determinable human operator” even if that human isn’t in the car, but figuring out who that responsible operator is adds a new level of complexity to personal injury suits. This is especially true in “no-win situations”

Sometimes there is no action that can prevent an accident. In these no-win situations, a computer will decide what kind of accident occurs. If a car swerves in front of a robotic car, the car will be programmed to react in some way to the obstacle. While a person reacts instinctively, a computer will quickly analyze risk. It may stop suddenly, but it may swerve into something less likely to do damage. If the option is to crash into another car and a small person, the car will have to be very carefully programmed not to hit the person. If it does, who will be responsible for the victim’s injuries?

These questions are likely to create complex personal injury cases in the future. As both Chicago personal injury lawyers and as citizen drivers, we are awaiting the law’s response. In the meantime, we will continue to fight for the rights of our clients who are in traditional accidents. If you are in an accident with another car, either now or in the future, contact us at the Staver Law Group today. We are always available for a free consultation to help you decide what to do about your car accident settlement. We will always fight for the best outcome for our clients possible.