Who’s Liable in a Self-Driving Car Accident in Utah?

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Who’s Liable in a Self-Driving Car Accident in Utah?

By Max Connect
March 7, 2024

Self-driving cars are shaking up the way we think about getting from point A to point B. Visionaries like Elon Musk are all in on this tech, promising us a future where the roads are safer and traffic jams are a thing of the past. But as beneficial as it sounds to kick back while your car does the heavy lifting, accidents still happen.

Now, imagine you’re in a fender bender with one of these self-driving wonders. In a human-driven car, it can be pretty straightforward: someone ran a red light, someone wasn’t paying attention. But now, who do you point the finger at? The car company? The software engineers? The person who was in the car but not really “driving”?

As we cruise into the future, the conversation around self-driving cars is heating up. Sure, the promise of safer roads and more free time is enticing. But as we navigate this new world, we’ve got to make sure the legal landscape is clear.

Utah’s Legal Green Light for Self-Driving Cars

In a significant move towards embracing the future of autonomous vehicles (AVs), Utah law has officially given self-driving cars the green light to operate on roadways statewide. House Bill 101, a landmark piece of legislation signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert in late March 2019, passed unanimously in the Utah Legislature, marking a pivotal moment in the state’s transportation history. This law made it legal for autonomous vehicles to navigate public roads across Utah, signaling a strong endorsement of AV technology by state policymakers.

Key Provisions of House Bill 101

House Bill 101 is notable not just for allowing self-driving cars to operate freely but also for redefining the very concept of what it means to be a vehicle operator. With this law, Utah expanded the definition of a driver to include the computer systems piloting AVs, acknowledging the role of advanced technology in guiding these vehicles. This redefinition is a crucial step in legalizing the presence of autonomous vehicles on the road, as it addresses one of the fundamental questions about AV operation: who, or rather, what is in control?

The Impact on Testing and Development

Before Utah’s legislative shift, testing autonomous vehicles (AVs) was largely confined to controlled settings, creating a bit of a bubble that didn’t quite capture the unpredictability of real-world driving. This included everything from sudden weather changes to the erratic behavior of other road users. Essentially, these driverless cars hadn’t been truly tested in the scenarios they’d face every day on public roads.

Utah’s new approach changed the game by inviting these vehicles to tackle the full spectrum of real-world conditions. The thinking was straightforward: to prepare AVs for the future, they needed to be immersed in the present’s complexities. This wasn’t just about proving the technology could handle a bit more rain or a steep hill. It was a fundamental shift towards integrating AVs into our everyday lives, ensuring they could safely and efficiently navigate the nuances of day-to-day travel.

As self-driving cars become more integrated into Utah’s transportation network, understanding the legal framework that supports their operation is essential for anyone involved in or affected by this shift. This includes personal injury attorneys, insurance providers, and the general public, all of whom must navigate the evolving landscape of autonomous vehicle law.

Who Is Liable? Human Driver, Car Manufacturer, Software Company, or Third Party

Self-driving vehicles on a highway.

In the event of a self-driving car accident in Utah, determining liability can be a complex process due to the various entities involved in the operation and functionality of autonomous vehicles. Unlike traditional car accidents where liability often falls on one of the drivers, self-driving car accidents introduce multiple potential defendants, including the human driver (if any), the car manufacturer, the software company, and possibly third parties. Here’s how liability can be assessed among these entities:

Human Driver

The role of the human driver in a self-driving car accident varies depending on the level of the vehicle’s autonomy and whether the driver had any control or intervention capabilities at the time of the accident. In situations where the human driver fails to intervene when required or misuses the autonomous features, they could be held liable.

Car Manufacturer

Manufacturers of self-driving vehicles could be held liable if the accident was due to defects in the vehicle’s design or manufacturing. This includes failures in the autonomous system that should have been detected and corrected during the manufacturing process.

Software Company

Many self-driving vehicles rely on complex software algorithms to operate. If an accident is traced back to a software malfunction or flaw in the vehicle’s decision-making algorithms, the company responsible for developing the software could be held liable.

Third Party

Third-party liability can include various scenarios, such as issues with the vehicle’s maintenance if performed by an outside party, or infrastructure failures (like malfunctioning traffic signals) that contributed to the accident. Additionally, other drivers or pedestrians who act negligently and cause an accident with a self-driving car can also be considered at fault.

Navigating Liability

Determining liability in self-driving car accidents requires a detailed investigation into the incident, often involving the analysis of vehicle data logs, software algorithms, and the actions of the human driver (if applicable). Legal experts can help navigate these complexities, ensuring that all responsible parties are held accountable.

This multi-faceted approach to liability underscores the importance of seeking experienced legal counsel following a self-driving car accident. An attorney with expertise in this area can provide invaluable assistance in navigating the legal landscape, advocating for the victim’s rights, and securing the compensation they deserve.

Steps to Take After a Self-Driving Car Accident

A woman on her cell phone after a car accident

Navigating the aftermath of a self-driving car accident requires a careful approach, especially in Utah where driverless vehicle laws add layers of complexity to already stressful situations. Here’s a guide to protect your legal rights and set the groundwork for a potential claim.

1. Ensure Safety and Report the Accident

The first priority in any accident is safety. Move to a safe location if possible and check for any injuries. Immediately call 911 to report the accident, ensuring there’s an official accident report, which is crucial for insurance and legal processes.

2. Document the Scene and Collect Information

Gather as much information as possible:

  • Take photos of the accident scene, including all vehicles involved, any visible damages, and road conditions.
  • Note the make and model of the self-driving car, and look for any indicators of its autonomous features.
  • Collect contact information from witnesses and any conventional drivers involved in the accident.

3. Seek Medical Attention

Even if you feel fine, it’s important to see a doctor. Some injuries may not be immediately apparent but could have significant long-term effects. Medical records will also serve as valuable evidence in your claim.

4. Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Specialized in Self-Driving Car Accidents

Given the complexities involved in self-driving car accidents, consulting with an attorney who has experience in this area is vital. They can navigate Utah’s specific legal landscape regarding autonomous vehicles and ensure your claim is handled correctly.

Legal Considerations and Next Steps

Your attorney will likely:

  • Conduct a detailed investigation into the accident, including the autonomous vehicle’s data logs, which can provide crucial information about what the car was “thinking” and doing at the time of the accident.
  • Advise you on dealing with insurance companies, especially since claims involving self-driving cars can be more complex.
  • Evaluate all possible avenues for compensation, including the manufacturer’s liability, the role of software developers, and traditional drivers involved in the accident.

Self-Driving Vehicle Accident Statistics

Recent data shed light on the safety and impact of self-driving vehicles.According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Tesla’s Autopilot software has been linked to a higher number of fatalities and injuries than was earlier reported, with a total of 17 deaths and 736 accidents since 2019.

This highlights the need for ongoing scrutiny and improvement in autonomous driving technologies. Looking ahead, projections suggest that by 2026, the majority of vehicles will be equipped with advanced safety features like rear cameras and parking sensors, signaling a shift towards greater vehicle autonomy.

Human error is a major factor in 94% of all traffic accidents, a statistic that stands to be significantly impacted as vehicles become more autonomous. In tandem, the National Safety Council estimates that the adoption of driver assistance technologies, such as lane-keeping assist and automatic braking, has the potential to prevent nearly 20,000 deaths annually.

How are Automated Vehicle Systems Categorized?

The Society of Automotive Engineers outlines six levels of driving automation, ranging from no automation (Level 0) to full automation (Level 5). Current vehicles predominantly fall within Levels 0 to 2, with higher levels of automation being tested in select urban areas. These categories are pivotal for understanding the operational capabilities of autonomous cars and their legal and insurance implications.

Common Causes of Self-Driving Car Accidents

The journey towards fully autonomous driving is fraught with challenges, including:

  • Unpredictable Driving: The inability of self-driving cars to anticipate the actions of human drivers, particularly in instances of erratic or reckless behavior.
  • Manufacturing Defects: Failures or malfunctions in a vehicle’s automated systems can lead to catastrophic outcomes.
  • Adverse Weather Conditions: Heavy rain, snow, or fog can impair the sensors on autonomous vehicles, compromising their functionality.
  • Distracted Driving: As vehicles transition to full automation, there’s a risk that humans may over-rely on driver assistance features and fail to take control when necessary.

Common Car Accident Injuries

Serious injuries from car crashes can vary widely, from mild to life-threatening conditions, including traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage, internal organ injuries, broken bones, whiplash, lacerations, bruising, scarring, and disfigurement.

Don’t Face Your Self-Driving Car Accident Alone: We’re Here to Help

If you’ve found yourself in the aftermath of a self-driving car accident in Utah, the road to justice can feel overwhelmingly complex and isolating. But you don’t have to walk it alone. At Parker & McConkie, we understand the depth of confusion and pain that comes with such incidents, and our hearts go out to those who are suffering. Our law firm is dedicated to standing by your side, offering not just legal expertise but a compassionate ear and a steadfast commitment to your cause.

Don’t let the weight of this situation bear down on you without support. Contact Parker & McConkie today for a free consultation. Our Utah car accident attorneys are ready to fight tirelessly for your rights, helping to light the way forward during this difficult time.

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Schedule a Free Consultation Now By Contacting Our Team at (801) 980-9708