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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

First Fatality in Self Driving Car Raises Legal Questions

Who is liable for car accidents involving self driving technology?

In May, the driver of a Tesla S sports car was killed in an accident in Florida while operating the automated driving system. The accident occurred when the driver of the Tesla crashed into a tractor-trailer that made a left turn at an intersection where there was no traffic light. Now, federal officials are investigating the design and performance of the company’s Autopilot system.

Tesla released a statement on its website to the effect that both the driver and the automated driving system failed to notice the white side of the truck against the brightly lit sky. The Model S driver passed under the trailer under extremely rare circumstances, the company said. Tesla also claimed this was the first known death in over 130 million miles of Autopilot operation.

Before the automated driving system can be used, drivers are required to acknowledge that it is only an assist system and they must maintain control of the vehicle, keeping both hands on the wheel at all times. The system is designed to frequently check to ensure the driver’s hands are on the wheel, gives alerts if hands aren’t detected, and the car is supposed to slow down until the driver responds. For its part, Tesla acknowledge the system is not perfect, but that when properly used it reduces driver workload and results in improvement in safety.

In cases such as this, the driver who was turning left is often found to be at fault, however, if the government’s investigation reveals flaws in the design and performance of Tesla’s system, there may be grounds for a product liability lawsuit. A further investigation of the accident may also reveal whether the driver of the vehicle was operating the system as it was intended.

While it remains to be seen whether a lawsuit will be filed this accident raises a number of legal questions as to who is responsible for the fatality: the tractor trailer driver, the car manufacturer, the driving software company, the sensor maker, or the owner of the vehicle? In the meantime if you were injured in a car accident in Kentucky that was not your fault, you should speak to an experienced personal injury attorney.


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