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Self-Driving Car Accident: What You Need to Know

By Keith Stachowiak on April 25, 2017 // Leave a Comment

self driving car accident informationSelf-driving cars are becoming a trending topic with increasing investments from automakers and industry leaders, and increasing concern from other drivers and policy makers.

How will these self-driving cars be regulated, insured and most importantly, what happens when a self-driving car gets into an accident?

This blog will review key information about self-driving cars, covering everything from statistics, facts, and everything in between. This article will provide a detailed look at self-driving cars with expert opinions from our team of car accident attorneys, including:

  • Explaining a self-driving car
  • Self-driving car growth
  • What happens if a self-driving car gets into an accident?
  • Negligence and responsibility for self-driving car crash

What is a Self-Driving Car?

To understand how a self-driving car functions, we must first understand the technological components beneath the hood.

Lidar Units

  • L.I.D.A.R stands for “light detection and ranging”, it sends out a series of light pulses with a time interval between each pulse to a target. This allows the sensors to receive an accurate measure of speed and range. On a self-driving car, there is one large spinning lidar unit on top of the car which generates a 360-degree image of the surroundings, accompanied by several additional units on the front and sides of the vehicle.

Radar Sensors

  • Radar sensors measure the distance from the car to obstacles around it. These sensors are located around the entire vehicle.


  • Cameras are used to identify signs, traffic lights, pedestrians and bicyclists. They are also used to measure distances.

All this information listed above is sent to the car’s main computer which analyzes the data and evaluates how to respond based on current conditions. This technology is not new to drivers, in fact, several of these features are already available in new cars.

Some of the common features that can be found in a self-driving car include:

  • Drift warning
  • Blind spot detectors
  • Self-parking
  • Enhanced cruise control
  • Collision avoidance

self-driving-car-accidentAnother important factor to consider about self-driving cars is the difference of a driverless car and an autonomous car.

Driverless car – does everything, doesn’t need a steering wheel or pedals

Autonomous car – needs human input, the driver can turn a feature on or off

The difference between the two is how much control the driver has, and how much responsibility they hold if an accident occurs.

Self-Driving Car Growth Expected

As demand for improved technology in cars increases, there are some important safety considerations, including.

    • The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has data that supports the claim that about 90% or more of accidents are caused by human error. In theory, self-driving cars should eliminate this risk. However, humans can still intervene with these cars while driving and technological failures are still a possibility.
    • Researchers estimate that with self-driven cars nearly 300,000 fatalities could be prevented in the United States over the course of a decade. Globally, that number jumps up to 10 million lives per decade.

As technology improves, the projected growth of driverless cars is also expected to increase.

    • The Department of Transportation reached a safety agreement with automakers which requires more than 99% of new vehicles to have automatic emergency braking standard by 2022.
    • Automatic features are already becoming the norm, if this technology tests well years down the line it could be as common as seat belts.

However, there is some growing hesitation on the increasing use of self-driving vehicles. People who drive for a living, such as bus drivers or taxi drivers, could lose their jobs. There is also worry that drivers and pedestrians may not use these features for their intended purposes. For example, someone could walk in front of a car because they know the car will stop for them. In addition, drivers may grow too reliant on their smart vehicles and become negligent.

self driving car crash

What Happens If a Self-Driving Car Gets Into an Accident?

Take a look at two recent examples of self-driving car accidents. Could these have been avoided without the technology?

Recently, one of Uber’s self-driving SUVs was involved in a crash with a Honda CR-V. The driver of the Honda was making a left turn across three lanes of traffic, the first two lanes were backed up with cars. Meanwhile, the self-driving SUV was driving in the third lane and entered the intersection as the light turned from green to yellow. There was a blind spot created by the traffic of the first two lanes leaving neither car time to react by the time they saw each other. There were no serious injuries and the Honda received blame for failing to yield to oncoming traffic. However, the driver of the SUV could have possibly taken control at the yellow light. Uber briefly held back their self-driving cars the rest of the weekend then reintroduced them to the road that Monday.

In the summer of 2016, a Tesla test car driving on autopilot on the highway slid under a tractor-trailer, killing the Tesla driver. The autopilot system controls braking and steering, but drivers are still told to keep their hands on the wheel. According to Tesla “Neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.” This seems to place blame on both the driver and the technology.

Who is at Fault in a Self-Driving Car Crash?

Chapter 346 of Wisconsin State Statutes contain the rules of the road for motor vehicles. The statutes contain the rules that govern vehicles on aspects of speed, right of way, turns, crosswalks, traffic signals and more. They are a part of every driver education class.

If you violate one of these rules of the road, the court would consider you negligent as a matter of law. The legal term for this is “negligence per se”. There are very few legitimate reasons to excuse such conduct.

If a self driving car violated one of these rules of the road, it would seem that the owner of that vehicle would likely be found negligent as a matter of law, even though the owner was not personally directing the vehicle. However, with very few cases to date on the matter of negligence, we will have to wait and see how the courts rule on such cases.

Negligence and Responsibility for Self Driving Car Crash

Insurance rates are currently based on aspects of drivers; claims histories, age and driving record to name a few. If you take the driver out of that equation what will those rates be based on? It will likely depend on the nature of the accident.

If the machine is deemed at fault, the blame might fall on the manufactures and a case of failed technology. With an autonomous car, an argument could be made against the driver whose responsibility is to regulate the features controlling the car and taking control in an unsafe situation. One positive aspect of improved technology is that like an airplane’s black box, self-driving cars are equipped to record every aspect of driving history. This improved technology will likely play a key role in determining blame in accidents.

As it stands now, insurance companies, manufacturers and policymakers agree, the technology is new and therefore lacks the reasonable amount of data needed to build a regulated set of laws concerning negligence and responsibility.

If you’ve been injured in a car crash, talk to a lawyer today to get the financial compensation you may deserve.
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