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Who Do You Sue When You Are Seriously Injured by a Google Driverless Car?


First, let”s redefine “driverless” car. There is no such thing – that”s just the terminology that”s in vogue when discussing these vehicles. In fact, there is always someone in the driver”s seat and the technology functions as a sophisticated auto-pilot. Google calls them self-driving cars while others refer to them as autonomous vehicles. Many worry that driverless cars may lead to more car accidents.

But no matter what you call it, as soon as these cars hit the roads (and hit other vehicles), there will be some legal issues over liability for injuries. The first and most obvious point is that the person operating the vehicle is responsible for whatever accident they are in. Just as relying on your GPS when it tells you to turn the wrong way onto a one-way street is poor judgment, so too is over-trusting any tech while driving.

You Can”t Hide Driverless Car Information

Think of this as enhanced cruise control. You”re on the highway doing 75 with your cruise control on and your foot off the pedals. If a deer darts into the road and you plow into it and then are knocked into another car, because you didn”t deactivate your cruise control by hitting the brakes, you”re to blame and also to blame for not maintaining your lane and striking another vehicle. No driver will be able to hide behind their tech, even if it fails.

Which States Allow Driverless Cars?

Several states are considering legislation related to driverless cars and liability, but so far only a few states have passed legislation. California and Florida”s autonomous vehicle laws simply direct the states” motor vehicle agencies to conduct a study and submit a report. Arizona shot down legislation in its most recent session due to debate over liability issues.

Nevada, however, passed legislation way back in 2011. They allowed Google, Audi and auto parts manufacturer Continental to test the vehicles on their roads after 10,000 hours of closed track testing and presenting to the state a $1 million liability bond. California, too, has allowed testing and Google engineers and testers have racked up hundreds of thousands of freeway and surface street miles with the technology.

How Does A Driverless Car Work Anyway?

In a nutshell, here”s how it works. Google has manually observed and recorded streets and logged light poles, lanes, curves, curbs and other permanent obstructions, easements and obstacles. The car itself has a laser sensor on the roof, sensors in the front and rear fenders and cameras. The vehicle compares the static data provided with the observed data collected to be able to differentiate pedestrians, parked cars and other traffic hazards.

This is an official Google video showing how the car operates – click here to view it.

There is a display that shows the operator of the vehicle where they are on the road as well as other nearby vehicles. Sensors and millions of megabytes of information rapidly processed by the laptop brain of the self-driving system allow the driving program to slow, change lanes and do all the things that humans should be doing to avoid accidents. But because the device has eyes where we don”t in the form of sensors, the system collects and rapidly collates more information than we could hope to fathom.

Are Driverless Cars More Safe?

In short, although the notion of this disruptive technology may be a little hard to fathom, the outcome is that there should be far fewer accidents. For instance, if that texting teenager in the next lane was being driven by Google tech, they”re less likely to sideswipe you. And if a drunk staggers out of a bar and behind the wheel of a Google self-driving car, they are less likely to kill someone. Of course, these scenarios are one of the very real liability issues of these vehicles.

Would having this babysitting technology in your car encourage you to pull out your iPhone and update Facebook while commuting? Would drunks be less likely to take a cab if they knew they had an electronic designated driver? But then the flipside is that the world is full of careless drivers and those that would text behind the wheel or drink and get behind the wheel would likely do so no matter what.

How Much Does it All Cost?

The aim of the driverless tech is to make our roadways safer, but even once it”s perfected, the cost is prohibitive at current rates. The system runs about $100,000 for all of the sensors and camera components. That”s not something many of us can afford. Might be cheaper to just hire a chauffeur… But like all technology, the price will drop low enough to where a significant segment of the population could afford it – and that”s where the liability concerns become paramount.

Bottom Line: Liability- Who Do You Sue?

The Florida law states that the original maker of the car can”t be held liable for driverless technology installed after market. But Nissan is planning on factory installing the tech and says they hope to have autonomous cars in showrooms by 2020. In this case, the maker could potentially be liable. Technology failure would also prove a liability issue, but that would be a challenge to prove.

Plug in: And what about the owner of the vehicle who buys an autonomous car? Shouldn’t the owner of the vehicle be liable too?

So, to answer the original question, who would you sue, the answer is, with very little variance, the operator and owner of the vehicle and anyone else for whom they were running an errand. Once you”re behind the wheel, you are liable except in very rare cases of catastrophic equipment failure that”s not caused by you failing to maintain your vehicle or operate it responsibly and in accordance with the law.