Self-Driving Cars Are So Complex: But Why?

Autonomous cars are slowly but surely gaining popularity in the US. Presently, many cars on American roads have some level of assisted driver technology intended to make driving easier and safer.

The degree of technology varies from one vehicle model to another, with the most advanced driver-assist featuring autonomous and semi-autonomous technology.

The Features Work, But They Can And Do Fail

Autonomous and semi-autonomous features allow the driver to cede control of the vehicle to the systems, which can perform almost every task a driver can with little to no human intervention. When the autonomous capability is on, the car relies on technology to stop at red lights, avoid obstacles, steer, park, and perform any other action.

The autonomous feature works most of the time, but there are some situations where these features have been seen to fail with catastrophic results. If you have been hit by a self-driving car and intend to sue for damages, you could wonder who to hold accountable. Liability will depend on the underlying circumstances, but it is always best to involve a lawyer for cases involving autonomous vehicles.

Driver Liability

It is legal to own and even drive a self-driving car on American roads. However, there must be a licensed driver in the driver’s seat. Presently, the driver is responsible for controlling the vehicle on the road. That means if technology fails for whatever reason, the driver should be able to take over and avert danger. If they fail to intervene and an accident occurs, they will be liable for resulting damages.

Some experts argue that self-driving car manufacturers should also bear some liability for an accident resulting from an overdependence on the self-driving features. “The overdependence on the self-driving features is caused by mislabeling and deceptive naming of features which give the user a skewed perception of safety,” says attorney Jon Ostroff.

For example, Tesla calls its advanced driver-assist feature “auto-pilot.” The auto-pilot label on their feature can create an impression of the car’s ability to operate with full autonomy. Recently, a court in Germany ruled that the auto-pilot tag on Tesla vehicles is misleading. Following that ruling, Tesla could be liable for accidents resulting from an over-dependence on the feature.

Auto Maker Liability

There are situations where liability could lie directly with the automaker. For example, a fault in the system could cause a situation that renders the driver unable to control a vehicle, resulting in an accident. Other times, faulty parts could cause an accident. The faulty part maker will be liable for resulting damages in such a situation.

Hacking is a real risk for autonomous cars. While autonomous cars are not a priority for most hackers, the risk of hackers infiltrating the system is always present. In 2015, hackers managed to stop a semi-autonomous vehicle on the road, which brought the safety of protections against hacking into question. If an accident results from a system hack, liability will likely lie with the auto manufacturer.

Under products liability law, a product manufacturer must protect consumers from harm resulting from the use of their products. That means autonomous vehicles are responsible for ensuring that their systems are hack-proof to prevent the possibility of another person interfering with the driver’s operation of the car. Accidents resulting from hacks can see the auto manufacturer carrying liability for damages.

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