The Ride Share Law Group website recently reported that a self-driving Uber vehicle being tested on the roads of Arizona struck and killed a woman. While there was a human driver in the car, the vehicle was in autonomous mode. According to the article, the victim “was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk. The Uber vehicle was traveling in automonous mode with a human safety driver at the wheel when it struck the woman.”
Uber has subsequently pulled all test vehicles from the roadways.
This is obviously a tragic accident. But it highlights some of the concerns facing lawmakers as we began to grapple with the presence of autonomous vehicles on the road. One big question that seems to be unanswered from this accident is assuming an injury happens, if the vehicle is in autonomous mode who is responsible? Is it the driver who is not actually handling the vehicle? Is it Uber? Is it the manufacturer? Or is it some amorphous robot, something that could never be hauled into court and held responsible for its negligence?
These are questions that must be answered through legislation. Many states are working to pass legislation that would simply make the manufacturer of an autonomous vehicle the responsible party when a vehicle is in autonomous mode. The key is to make sure that when a vehicle violates a rule of the road, someone can be held responsible for harm caused. A victim should not be left without recourse because she was hit by a driverless car.
Is this family supposed to have to file some massive product liability suit if its determined that the vehicle simply entered a crosswalk when it shouldn’t have? Or should they be able to file a lawsuit just like thousands of Americans do everyday when other drivers harm them through no fault of their own. The point is that our laws need to quickly catch up to this new technology. Driverless cars are coming to a city and community near you soon. It is important that we consider and wrestle with how we are going to hold them liable for accidents, because even machines can fail and hurt people.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.
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