McCoy & Hiestand Attorneys at Law

In today’s world when two people are in an accident the “at-fault” driver’s insurance pays for the damages incurred, but what happens when the car at-fault doesn’t have a driver?

Autonomous Cars

More than 1,400 self-driving vehicles are being tested by more than 80 companies across the United States.

While self-driving cars are still in the testing phases, it is very likely that they will be widely available in the coming years. Some companies, such as Tesla expect a million autonomous cars to be on roadways be the end of 2020, but most other companies haven’t put a harsh deadline on the technology. After the death of Elaine Herzberg, the first pedestrian to be killed by a self-driving car, the optimism of investors and tech groups turned to the realization that artificial intelligence cannot always predict human behavior.

Increased Safety

After more technology is developed, autonomous cars have the potential to make roadways much safer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 94% of severe crashes are due to human error. With more self-driving cars on the road this should reduce the number of human errors.

However, artificial intelligence isn’t perfect either. There are have been 13 serious crashes involving autonomous vehicles, six of which resulted in fatalities.   When a crash is caused by a self-driving vehicle people may question whose insurance will cover the damages, but it isn’t quite that simple yet.

Insurance & Liability

Before diving into who pays, it’s important to understand the different levels of automation that will become available for vehicles as well as which insurance will likely cover at each of those levels.

  • Level 0 – no automation
  • Level 1 – the vehicle includes driver assistance features such as automatic braking
  • Level 2 – partial automation such as lane centering, still requires a human driver to monitor the situation at all times
  • Level 3 – conditional automation, the vehicle can drive itself in certain conditions, but a backup driver needs to be ready to take control
  • Level 4 – high automation, the vehicle can drive itself without human intervention, but only in areas with the right conditions, or in places that have been mapped
  • Level 5 – full automation, the vehicle can drive anywhere without human intervention

For levels 0-2 it’s clear that the driver’s insurance should cover any damages in the event of an accident, but what about 3-5?

That’s where laws and insurance companies will need to play some catch up. Pointing fingers is all fun and games until it truly comes time for someone to pay. At this point in time manufacturers of the self-driving cars are responsible for any accidents they cause, because they’re still in the test phase, but it’s unlikely this will always be the case once autonomous cars hit the consumer market.

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