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Liability for car accidents involving self-driving vehicles

Over the past few years, the media has been buzzing about self-driving vehicles. Google is currently testing a self-driving model, as are several auto manufacturers. There is great potential in a vision of the future that includes self-directed vehicles. The hope is that fewer car accidents will occur when human error no longer becomes a factor in driving. In addition, many experts hope that these vehicles will help to reduce gridlock and will improve traffic conditions because they will be more predictable than human motorists.

However, there are also numerous concerns being voiced in regards to the proliferation of these vehicles. One particularly complex concern involves liability for car accidents involving self-directed vehicles. If a self-directed vehicle crashes into another vehicle, a pedestrian, a cyclist or into a structure and someone inside the self-directed car or outside of it is harmed in the crash, who may be held responsible?

If a car is truly self-directed, it would be difficult to envision holding the individual behind the wheel accountable for harm, given that he or she was not actually operating the vehicle. Then again, would it always make sense to hold the auto manufacturer liable for such accidents? What if a pedestrian is only hit after failing to look for oncoming traffic? And would vehicle accident law apply or would products liability law apply in regards to a self-directed vehicle crash?

Many questions need to be answered and many concerns need to be addressed before widespread marketing of self-directed vehicles can be attempted. And chief among these concerns is who may be held liable if one of these vehicles is involved in an accident.

Source:, "Who Pays for a Car Accident When There is no Driver?" Joshua Bleiberg, April 28, 2014

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