Accident liability questions surround autonomous cars

Car buyers in Pennsylvania are already able to purchase vehicles with sophisticated accident avoidance technology, and upcoming luxury models from Mercedes-Benz and Tesla will feature semiautonomous systems designed to handle the driving chores during difficult parking maneuvers or on long stretches of highway. However, many auto industry experts say that these high-tech cars are just the tip of the iceberg, and showrooms will soon feature fully autonomous cars that require the driver to do little more than specify a destination address.

Accident liability is a thorny question for auto and technology companies like Google and Mercedes who plan to introduce self-driving cars. The technology has undergone rigorous testing, but problems persist when weather conditions worsen or other road users make hand signals. Industry representatives say that more testing on public roads would go a long way toward solving these issues, but to date only four states have passed laws permitting the testing of autonomous vehicles.

The vast majority of car accidents involve human error of some kind, and the companies developing autonomous vehicles are confident that safety will be one of their most powerful selling points. However, even early adopters are hesitant to venture into uncharted territory without assurances, and Google, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have all said that they will accept liability if one of their autonomous cars causes a crash.

Establishing liability after an automobile accident is sometimes a challenge for personal injury attorneys when police reports do not clearly indicate that negligent behavior was a factor. In these situations, attorneys may have the vehicles involved inspected to determine if poor maintenance or sloppy repairs could have led to mechanical failure. Attorneys may also establish negligence by checking recall databases to see if vehicle owners or manufacturers failed to address potentially serious safety issues in a timely manner.