Across the United States, autonomous driving features and self driving cars (AVs) are becoming more and more popular. PolicyAdvice estimates that 33 million automated vehicles will be on the road by 2040. While this may seem like a very high number, well-known car companies such as Tesla, Cadillac, Genesis, Ford, BMW, Mercedes and more are all releasing new cars and updated models with autonomous driving features. It seems a future where driverless cars occupy the roads may be closer than it appears…

Did you know: Today, in some states, there are driverless taxi services where driverless cars pick you up at your entered destination and bring you to your requested drop off location without any human interaction?

While it’s quite interesting to see this technology advance and make its way to market, this new technology raises a lot of questions. What happens if these AVs are involved in an accident? How will liability work? And more.

What is an Autonomous Vehicle (AV)?

First, let’s understand what AV is.

According to the Department of Energy, an AV is defined as any vehicle that is equipped with a technology that has the capability to operate the vehicle without the direct control of the driver.

Different Levels of Autonomy

It’s important to note that there are many different levels of autonomy. The NHTSA breaks these down as follows: 

Level 0: Momentary Driver Assistance

  • In this case, you as the driver are responsible for driving the vehicle. You must steer, brake, accelerate, etc. All vehicle features are assistive, they do not operate the vehicle.
  • Think: automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning

Level 1: Driver Assistance

  • The driver has minimum assistance. You are responsible for operating the vehicle, but the system can be engaged to perform steering OR accelerating/breaking.
  • Think: adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance

Level 2: Additional Assistance

  • You are responsible for operating the vehicle, and when engaged, the system can perform steering AND acceleration/braking. 
  • Think: highway pilot

Level 3: Conditional Automation

  • The car can operate without the driver’s control, but the driver must pay attention and be ready to take over control at any point.

Level 4: High Automation

  • The car and system is fully responsible for driving tasks within limited service areas while occupants act only as passengers.

Level 5: Full Automation

  • System is fully responsible for driving tasks while occupants do not need to be engaged under all conditions and on all roadways.

Who Is At-Fault in Driverless Vehicle Accidents?

In South Carolina, car accident victims can pursue personal injury claims when they’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence as long as they were found less than 51% at fault for the accident. Today, a high percentage of accidents boil down to human error such as:

However, when we get into the specifics of crashes involving AVs, these variables can change and are a bit of an uncharted territory for insurance companies and law firms alike. Depending on the specifics of the accident, there are a few different parties that may be found at fault if an AV causes an accident:

  • The driver of the vehicle
  • The owner of the vehicle
  • The car’s manufacturer
  • The manufacturer of a defective vehicle component
  • The car’s software developer
  • Another company in the vehicle’s chain of distribution
  • The human who turned on autopilot mode
  • A third party such as a repair shop

Determining fault in these accidents can be extremely difficult without an experienced attorney on your side. If you’ve been in a collision while operating an autonomous vehicle or were hit by someone in an AV, it’s important to talk to a car accident lawyer about the specifics of your case to see what your options are and what compensation you may be eligible to recover.

Common Self-Driving or AV Car Accident Types

Some common causes of accidents involving driverless vehicles include:

  • Rear-end Collisions – This can occur when a human-operated vehicle fails to stop in time and runs into the back of the driverless vehicle or if a driver fails to take control of the vehicle in time to prevent the accident.
  • Sideswipe Collisions – In most cases, these occur when a human driver runs into the side of an automated vehicle. 
  • Pedestrian Accidents – Autonomous vehicles can also lead to pedestrian accidents and may run into a walker or biker on the road. Typically, these occur when the driver fails to take control of the vehicle.

Automated Vehicle Accident Statistics and Facts

In 2022, Automakers reported approximately 400 car accidents reported with partially automated driver-assist systems, most of which involved a Tesla.

In 2023 so far, there have been over 100 reported accidents involving autonomous vehicles in the state of California alone.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), self-driving cars resulted in at least 11 deaths in a four month period in 2022 across the US.

Approximately 9.1 driverless car crashes occur per million miles driven.

25 companies are reported to be running fully autonomous vehicles.

In 2022, 130 fully autonomous vehicle crashes were reported, including Waymo, Transdev Alternate Services, and General Motors-controlled Cruise LLC vehicles.

What to do if you’ve been injured in an AV or self-driving car accident.

If you’ve been hurt in an accident involving an AV or a self driving car, it’s critical to hire an attorney to help you understand your legal rights under state law. If you are located in South Carolina or are looking for a referral in another state, our team is here to help. Give our office a call at (803) 888-2200. For your convenience, we are available 24/7.