Car Accidents Caused by Autonomous Vehicles: Who’s Liable?

Electric car connected to a charging dock.

Over the past decade, there has been a boom in emerging technologies and implicitly, an increase in the study and use of autonomous vehicle technology. Companies like Google and Tesla have been developing and testing these so-called “self-driving cars.” Despite the many safety features put in place, these vehicles have their flaws. 

2022 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported many Tesla car accidents. As of May 15, 2022, some 392 Level 2 ADAS-related accidents (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) had already been reported to the NHTSA within less than a single year.

The more self-driving cars we see on the road, the more we may wonder, “Who bears responsibility when an autonomous vehicle crashes?” In this blog post, we will delve into the complex issue of liability and autonomous vehicles.

Understanding Autonomous Vehicles

Let’s take a moment to understand what autonomous vehicles are and how they work. Essentially, an autonomous car is a vehicle that can detect its surroundings. 

These cars rely on a combination of sensors, cameras, and AI to navigate the roads. Some vehicles need human guidance, while others can function without human drivers. 

The promise of self-driving vehicles

Self-driving cars hold the promise of reducing injuries and fatalities caused by human errors and negligence. Notice the following key ways autonomous vehicles could make roads much safer.

Eliminating distracted driving

Self-driving software systems don’t get drunk, fall asleep at the wheel, or get distracted by texting like human drivers. Eliminating impairment and distraction could prevent many crashes.

Improving reaction times

Autonomous vehicles can identify hazards and react much quicker than humans. This will allow faster braking, evasive maneuvers, and crash avoidance. 

Enhancing driving smoothness

Self-driving cars are programmed to obey all traffic laws. Additionally, they program self-driving cars to drive more efficiently without aggressive driving behaviors like hard braking or quick lane changes.

Engaging in vehicle-to-vehicle communication

With V2V connectivity, autonomous cars can wirelessly communicate operations and intentions with other self-driving cars on the road. This helps the cars better coordinate safe movements.

Removing human limitations

Unlike humans, autonomous systems don’t get tired. Driverless cars are not affected by impaired senses like limited night vision or stress.

The challenges of autonomous vehicles

Although a self-driving car sounds like a promising advancement, it has several limitations. These limitations are often the cause of driverless car accidents. The following are some of the key challenges self-driving cars face.

Unpredictable situations

Programming autonomous systems to identify and respond to every potential hazard is an enormous challenge. Roads are highly dynamic environments with changing variables. Autonomous cars may not be able to adapt to things like pedestrians, animals, debris, and construction zones.

Extreme weather conditions

Autonomous vehicle sensors can have issues functioning properly in severe weather conditions. Conditions like heavy rain, snow, and fog could block sensory data input.

Cybersecurity threats

Self-driving cars rely on complex software that could be hacked. A compromised operating system is a dangerous vulnerability. 

Machine learning limitations

The artificial intelligence models that train self-driving cars have limitations. Many unpredictable scenarios can take place on the road. Machine learning cannot teach the self-driving car to adapt to every situation as effectively as humans can. 

Ethical decision-making dilemmas

In unavoidable crash situations, self-driving software will need to make ethical judgments. For example, prioritizing passenger safety over pedestrian safety or potential property damage. Programming appropriate ethical responses is controversial.

Different levels of autonomy

Autonomous cars operate at different levels of autonomy. The level of automation ranges from relying on human input to being fully self-driving. Autonomous vehicles are classified into different levels of autonomy, each requiring varying degrees of human involvement.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines vehicle automation at these levels:

  • Level 0: No automation) – The driver is solely responsible for all driving tasks
  • Level 1: Minimal help – This includes the use of features like power brakes or power steering
  • Level 2: Partial automation – This includes features like cruise control, where the driver maintains control
  • Level 3: Conditional automation – The driverless vehicles can operate without driver control but the driver should be ready to intervene
  • Level 4: High-automation – The system handles all driving tasks in specified areas, allowing occupants to be passive passengers without needing to engage
  • Level 5: Full automation – Fully autonomous vehicles can operate without a driver and may lack traditional controls like a steering wheel or pedals

Arkansas laws for driverless vehicles

Concerns about the safety of self-driving cars have contributed to delays in their widespread adoption. Back in 2018, only 15 states had enacted bills related to autonomous vehicles. Today, legislation related to self-driving cars exists in the majority of states.

The Arkansas law states that autonomous cars must be operated by a licensed individual. The vehicle is also required to serve a documented commercial purpose. The law permits a driverless car without seat belts, a steering wheel, or a rearview mirror. They can be remotely operated in Arkansas as long as they follow all state traffic laws and safety regulations.

Safety precautions and concerns

The self-driving cars currently on our roads aren’t entirely in autonomous mode. While they can handle many driving tasks independently, they still need human intervention.

Car manufacturers have created driver-assistance features to improve road safety. These include technologies like: 

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Emergency braking systems
  • Backup cameras
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Lane-keeping assistance

These features enhance car safety by helping human drivers stay attentive. But if one of these features malfunctions and causes a car accident, determining liability becomes crucial. Who should be held responsible for a self-driving car crash?

Determining Liability in a Self-Driving Car Crash?

Many challenges can lead to a self-driving car crash. Understanding who is at fault is not always straightforward. Determining liability in autonomous vehicle crashes requires a comprehensive investigation. 

The parties involved need to consider factors like:

  • The autonomous vehicle’s behavior before the crash
  • The vehicle operator’s involvement
  • The actions of other involved parties
  • The potential defects in the vehicle’s autonomous systems

Who Can Be Held Responsible for Autonomous Car Accidents?

In accidents involving driverless cars, identifying liability can be a challenging task. Several parties could be held responsible for driverless car crashes using automated systems.


Manufacturers may be held accountable for crashes involving driverless cars. If the crash was the result of a vehicle’s design flaw or manufacturing defect, the manufacturer could bear liability. 

The manufacturer may be held liable if the crash was caused by the following instances: 

  • Sensor failures that led to missed obstacles
  • Software glitches, causing incorrect decisions
  • Communication systems malfunction
  • Defective brakes or steering impeding response to hazards
  • Powertrain issues causing sudden acceleration or power loss
  • Design flaws that compromised vehicle stability
  • Cybersecurity vulnerabilities leading to unauthorized access

Companies responsible for manufacturing and programming driverless vehicles might be liable for defects. There could be faults in the vehicle’s hardware or software that contributed to the car accident. Some self-driving car companies, like Google, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo, have expressed their readiness to accept responsibility for driverless car crashes.

Software developers

Developers of the car’s AI systems and algorithms are another party that could be held liable for self-driving car crashes. If their technology malfunctions or fails to respond appropriately in a given situation, it could lead to autonomous vehicle crashes.

Examples of software errors that can lead to autonomous vehicle accidents include:

  • Misinterpretation of sensor data 
  • Flaws in decision-making algorithms 
  • Errors in object recognition 
  • Incorrect mapping data, which can cause navigation errors
  • Communication issues 
  • Cybersecurity vulnerabilities 
  • Poorly designed interfaces, which can cause driver confusion

Vehicle owners

In some cases, the owner could be responsible for the car accident. The following instances of negligence might still result in owner liability:

  • Neglecting maintenance of automated systems
  • Making unauthorized modifications that impact the vehicle’s safety
  • Ignoring manufacturer instructions
  • Allowing unauthorized users to operate the car
  • Failing to intervene during system failures
  • Continuing to use the self-driving vehicle despite known defects

These factors can contribute to liability in self-driving car accidents. The vehicle owner will be responsible for any negligence while operating the self-driving vehicle.

Regulatory agencies

Government agencies can also potentially be held responsible for autonomous car accidents if their actions or oversight contributed to the self-driving car accident. Such a case might include issues like: 

  • Inadequate road maintenance
  • Faulty traffic signals
  • Insufficient regulation of autonomous vehicle operations

Liability in such cases can be complex and may depend on various factors. These include the specific laws and regulations in place and the extent of the agency’s involvement. Another factor is whether the entity fulfilled its duty of care in ensuring road safety.

Other drivers or entities

In some cases, liability in autonomous vehicle accidents may involve other drivers or entities. Their actions or negligence may have played a role in the incident. 

A few examples of the negligence that can contribute to driverless car accidents are:

  • Making sudden lane changes
  • Failing to yield at intersections
  • Engaging in distracted driving
  • Driving under the influence
  • Disregarding traffic signals
  • Tailgating
  • Performing aggressive driving maneuvers

Insurance Coverage for Self-Driving Car Accidents in Arkansas

Navigating liability claims involving autonomous vehicle accidents can be difficult. Traditionally, auto insurance has been based on the assumption that human drivers are responsible for accidents. But this emerging trend of driverless cars leaves insurance policies uncertain.

Insurance companies are doing their best to address new developments. Insurance companies are adapting by exploring new coverage models. These include product liability insurance for car manufacturers and specialized policies for self-driving car owners. 

As a driver, you probably want an exact breakdown of the liability process involving driverless cars. You might be curious about what to do if you’re in an accident with a driverless car or if your driverless car causes an accident. When you have such concerns, consulting an experienced car accident attorney is always best.

Talk to Our Arkansas Car Accident Lawyers for Free

Determining liability in a self-driving car accident can indeed be quite complex. But if you’ve been involved in a collision involving an autonomous car, Minton Law can assist you. 

Our personal injury lawyers recognize the importance of holding accountable the parties responsible for any harm caused – even by seemingly self-driven vehicles. Even if identifying the liable party proves to be difficult, we know exactly what to do to break down the obstacles and reveal the truth.

Our dedicated team is passionate about helping those affected by autonomous vehicle accidents. What’s more, we believe in fighting for justice and ensuring that you receive the compensation you deserve for the harm and losses you have suffered.

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