Self-driving cars aren’t just a cool thing seen in the movies anymore. The conversation regarding self-driving cars erupted in October 2014 when Tesla’s Model 3 debuted with an autopilot feature. As these vehicles are becoming more common in Illinois, many questions arise over who is liable if a self-driving car is involved in an accident. The advent of autonomous cars has disrupted the insurance liability industry and will require new laws and policy changes.
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What Are Self Driving Cars and How Do They Work?
Self-driving cars are vehicles with computerized automation that can drive themselves. They work by using cameras and sensors like radar and GPS to navigate and assist in driving. The Society for Automotive Engineers, or SEA, has developed 6 levels of driving automation. The SEA levels are:
● Level 0: Absolutely no driver automation Level 1 Driver Assistance: The system provides some driver assistance, but the driver must stay behind the wheel as they share control of the vehicle.
● Level 2 Partial Driver Automation: A driver can be “hands off” as the system can control steering, braking, and accelerating/decelerating but must remain alert behind the wheel. An example of a Level 2 Automation would be Tesla’s Autopilot, which requires a human driver to be alert in case of override.
● Level 3 Conditional Automation: The system can perform self-driving, but a human driver may be needed to provide corrections.
● Level 4 High Driver Automation: The system does not need a human to drive, however, the automation is “geofenced” and only available in limited circumstances. An example of this would be the robot-operated shuttles used in the Tokyo Olympics.
● Level 5 Full Automation: No human driver is needed.
What Is the Insurance Liability for Self-Driving Cars?
Any car accident victim is entitled to receive compensation for injuries that were not their fault. The question remains, who is considered legally responsible if a self-driving car is involved in an accident?
As automation moves up the SEA levels, it becomes more likely that liability shifts from the human driver to the manufacturer of the car. For instance, in Level 2 automation, a driver is required to share control of the vehicle with the system. Therefore, if a person is acting negligently, then the driver is at fault. In these cases, one would try to collect from the driver’s auto insurance based on the driver’s negligence
However, as more autonomous cars appear on the road, a car accident with a Level 4 or 5 car might shift the liability away from the driver and to the car company. In these cases, you probably won’t file a claim with the car owner’s auto insurance but go after the manufacturer of the vehicle. This could be done through a negligence suit or a product defect liability suit. As autonomous cars become more common, it’s likely that a driver’s auto insurance policy could become less expensive if they have a self-driving car due to the shifting liability.