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Who is to Blame When you are Injured by a Driverless Car?

Hit by a Driverless Vehicle? Who’s to Blame?

By JW Law

It’s the year 2025. You just bought a shiny new driverless car and decided to take a ride. You enter your destination using voice control and head out of the city. As your car cruises down the highway, you catch up on your emails, sip a cup of coffee and listen to your favorite music. On the road, your car scans its surroundings, using a combination of cameras, detailed maps, radar, and adjusts its speed accordingly. Just as you get comfortable on your new ride- crash! – Your car strikes the driverless vehicle in front of you.

In normal circumstances, you would assess the damage, exchange insurance information, gather witnesses, and prepare for a legal battle. But this isn’t your typical accident. You were not in control of your car. So who is responsible for the damages? You? Your car manufacturer? Or the software programmer?

The above scenario may be imaginary, but injuries and deaths by autopilot systems (in semi-autonomous cars) are already a reality. Just last year a driver of a semi autonomous Tesla Model S was tragically killed when his car – in autopilot mode- rammed into the side of a tractor-trailer.

Tesla released a statement admitting that the car’s sensors failed to distinguish the large white truck against a bright sky. However, the company placed the blame on the driver stating that “the drivers need to keep their hands on the wheel to stop accidents like this from happening.” Soon after the incident, the car manufacturer announced that the company would not accept any liability for car crashes while in autonomous mode.

While other car manufacturers like Volvo, Google, and Mercedes have proactively pledged to accept full liability, they have not explained what “full liability” means.

“Since this technology is relatively new and just now being utilized on public roads, federal and state law is relatively silent on the subject.” said Jeffrey A. Rizika, Esq., who is chair of the Auto Committee for the New Jersey Association for Justice (NJAJ), the largest trial lawyer organization in New Jersey and whose practice includes automobile, truck, and bus litigation. “However, at this stage, all parties will likely be sharing the fault to some extent for such crashes.”

 

Who is to Blame When you are Injured by a Driverless Car?

Driverless cars are touted to bring a lot of benefits. They can empower those who are unable to drive themselves, make commutes more productive, reduce traffic, and most importantly, dramatically reduce traffic fatalities by taking human errors and emotions out of the equation. The National Transportation Safety Board estimated that driverless cars could save many, if not most of the 32,000 lives lost every year. However, robot cars are not completely immune to accidents, and therefore the question of responsibility for accidents remains. So who exactly is responsible for accidents?

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in response to a letter from Google, wrote that “If no human occupant of the vehicle can actually drive the vehicle, it is more reasonable to identify the driver as whatever (as opposed to whoever) is doing the driving.”

Does this mean victims can sue the automaker for accidents? “Each incident will require a separate analysis of the factors that resulted in the crash, how much control each potential defendant had to avoid the crash and what the reasonable expectations were of the parties involved,” explains Rizika. However, some lawmakers, car companies, and auto industry advocates are already pushing for measures that will let car manufacturers off the hook. In a report released earlier this year, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) warned that some regulatory proposals to ensure safety and accountability would, in fact, give robot car manufacturers legal immunity. In the report, titled: “Driven to Safety: Robot Cars and the Future of Liability,” AAJ also outlined potential safety gaps that could place the public at risk and recommended policies that the civil justice system, rather than regulators, legislators or the industry itself, serves as the primary forum for determining safety requirements and liability for failing to protect the public.

The vision of bringing driverless cars to the marketplace is slowly becoming a reality. Although this technology potentially offers benefits to the public, it also poses a very dangerous potential problem due to flaws that have not yet been worked out and the confusion that surrounds the usage of such vehicles. The attorneys at Javerbaum Wurgaft are dedicated to protecting the public against wrongful acts perpetrated against them and seeing that justice is done. If you have been injured in an accident involving a vehicle utilizing this new technology, please contact Mr. Rizika and the rest of the motor vehicle negligence team at Javerbaum Wurgaft. We are here to help.

[Read Related: WHO PAYS YOUR MEDICAL BILLS WHEN YOU ARE INJURED IN A CAR WRECK? IT IS NOT AS CLEAR AS YOU MAY THINK]

truck side guard

Why Mandating Trailer Truck Side Underride Guards Should Matter to You?

By JW Law

Last year a driver of a Tesla Model S was tragically killed when his car rammed into the side of a tractor-trailer. The car- which was reportedly traveling at 80 MPH in an autopilot mode- was sheared off when it went underneath a truck. This high profile accident fired up a debate on self-driving car technology. However, there is another part to this horrific accident that is not addressed as much; a more pressing transportation safety issue – deaths caused by side underride collision.

According to official figures, each year roughly 200 motorists are killed when their cars plow into the sides of big-rig trailers that have high ground clearance. CBS North Carolina measured this uncovered space between the road and the bottom of a trailer to about 42 inches, which just happens to match the height where most people sit in a vehicle. In an accident, these motorists fall into the exposed area between the front and the rear wheels and suffer fatal crushing.

But many of these gruesome underride deaths can be significantly reduced, according to a new research conducted by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an auto safety group funded by insurers.

The institute conducted crash tests on trailer trucks with and without side guards. The research showed that a well-built guard could prevent vulnerable road users -pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and motorists from being run over by a large truck’s rear wheels in a side-impact collision.

“It prevented the car from going underneath, and consequently the airbags and seat belts were able to protect the driver dummy in those crash tests,” said David Zuby, who is the chief research officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

 

Video Courtesy: IIHS 
Side guards can work by covering the exposed area and shielding the victims from getting swept beneath the truck’s rear wheels, but as of now, they are not mandated by federal law. For years the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has required large trucks to have rear underride guard, but not along the sides.

Why are side guards not mandated?

“The (trucking) industry has always argued that it would be too expensive to install side guards, but many of the same truck and trailer manufacturers are already building and installing these guards in their trucks in the UK and Europe,” explained Lawrence Simon, who heads Javerbaum Wurgaft’s Trucking Litigation Department. “This is the same industry that resisted rear underride guards for many years. The well publicized crash involving Jayne Mansfield made the public think about rear underride, and call for change. The time is now for side underride guards.”

Simon is also a frequent lecturer and contributor on trucking issues throughout the United States, and has investigated and researched side underride systems that are in place in the UK and Europe and being developed in Canada.

In the absence of a federal rule, individual cities including New York, Boston, and Seattle, have made it mandatory to outfit municipally-owned and/or contracted trucks with side guards as part of their Vision Zero initiatives to eliminate crash deaths and injuries.

If you or somebody you love was seriously injured or killed in a gruesome side underride accident, you will need help from an attorney. Our trucking accident lawyers have decades of experience in investigating the causes of truck accidents and who is responsible. We will be with you every step of the way as you go through this ordeal, to ensure you get the compensation you deserve.

[Read Related: Two big steps forward for safety, and ten big steps backwards ???]