Self-driving cars have changed the way Americans think about the future of driving, but their safety record has made the idea of their widespread use controversial. Some passengers may balk at the idea of using a self-driving car simply because they are uncomfortable with the idea – in fact, a survey of adult internet users revealed only 21% of respondents would be willing to ride in a driverless car. But is that fear based on fact? In reality, how common are self-driving car accidents

What is a “Self-Driving” Car? 

A self-driving (or autonomous, or driverless) car uses sensors, cameras, artificial intelligence, and radar to travel without the need for a human to operate it.  Drivers with newer cars may already be familiar with self-driving technologies, even if the car is not completely autonomous. For example, hands-free steering, which corrects the course of the car without the need for the driver to touch the wheel, adaptive cruise control, which helps the driver keep a safe following distance, and lane-centering steering, which prevents the driver from drifting into another lane.  

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) categorizes cars and their ability to self-drive in five levels:

Level 1: The car’s driver assistance system can help the human driver to steer, brake, or accelerate – but not at the same time. The car may have some of the self-driving technologies mentioned above. 

Level 2: The car still has a human driver behind the wheel, but the driver assistance system can steer and brake or accelerate at the same time. 

Level 3: The driver is aided by an automated driving system (ADS) and can perform tasks such as self-parking. However a human is still the main driver and must be able to take over control of the vehicle. 

Level 4: Under specific conditions, the ADS can operate all driving tasks and observe surroundings for hazards, without human driver input. 

Level 5: The ADS behaves like a human driver under any kind of conditions. Human passengers can be completely passive. 

In the United States, there are some vehicles that have reached as high as Level 4, such as the partnership between Lyft and Google’s Waymo to provide driverless ride-share services in Phoenix, San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

What Are the Advantages of Self-Driving Cars? 

Champions of self-driving cars on the road claim that autonomous vehicles will make driving safer. In spite of the low public confidence in the safety of self-driving cars, according to the NHTSA, 94% of vehicle accidents are caused by human error, such as driving while distracted or under the influence of alcohol. The argument for self-driving vehicles maintains that the technology used to make decisions and avoid hazards can do so better than a human. This would have economic benefits as injuries and property damage from vehicle accidents cost billions each year. 

Self-driving vehicles could also increase human productivity. Many commuters spend hours behind the wheel going to and from work, for example, and in order to drive safely, don’t have many options outside of listening to music or podcasts while they sit in traffic. In an autonomous car with technology allowing a driver to focus on other tasks safely, they can accomplish far more with their time. 

Why Do Self-Driving Cars Get into Accidents? 

Self Driving Car Accident Attorney

Statistics show that self-driving cars are not completely safe. The NHTSA reported 392  crashes in a 10-month period involving cars with self-driving technology.  Of these, there were six fatalities and five serious injuries. A large proportion of these crashes – 273, five of which were fatal – involved vehicles manufactured by Tesla, which is reflective of the over 800,000 vehicles equipped with Autopilot, Tesla’s driver assistance program. A smaller proportion of accidents involved cars produced by Honda, Subaru, Ford, GM, BMW, Volkswagen, Toyota, Hyundai and Porsche.

One cause of self-driving car accidents is mechanical failure. If a component of the driver assistance technology, such as a camera or sensor fails to work properly, the vehicle may cross the path of an oncoming car and cause a collision. 

Another cause of accidents that concerns safety experts is drivers who are lulled into a false sense of security by the driver assistance technology. Drivers still need to remain alert and be equipped to take over control of the vehicle if needed. If their reaction time is not fast enough in those situations, the driver may not be able to avoid an accident. 

“Warning fatigue” is another cause of self-driving car accidents. Driver assistance technologies issue warnings if the human driver needs to intervene, and if too many warnings are issued, the driver may ignore them. A warning can also be a distraction, and cause the driver to make an error causing an accident. 

Who is Liable in a Self-Driving Car Accident? 

For owners of a vehicle with driver assistance technologies who get in an accident, if there is a mechanical failure, the car may not sense an approaching vehicle or correctly identify a pedestrian. If the warning system fails, the driver may not know in time of an immediate hazard. In these cases, the manufacturer of the vehicle could be held liable for the driver’s damages. 

If a driver, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian is involved in an accident with a self-driving car, the crash could be caused by a mechanical failure as well. The human driver can also be held liable. Human drivers are expected to be in the right condition to safely take over the control of a vehicle. If a driver is distracted, drowsy, or proved to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they can be at fault. In a well-known case, a safety driver for Lyft and Google’s Waymo partnership was found negligent for not watching the road when the vehicle fatally struck a pedestrian. The safety driver was watching television while sitting behind the wheel at the time of the accident. 

While the promise of self-driving cars is vast, accidents remain a reality. Navigating medical bills after a car accident can be challenging. It becomes even trickier for an out-of-state resident or when involved with specific vehicles like an Amazon delivery driver. The ordeal intensifies if the other driver is uninsured, as seen in cases of uninsured motorist accidents in Las Vegas. Beyond the physical, the emotional toll, such as post-accident PTSD, is another challenge victims often face.

If you have been involved in a self-driving car accident, Our skilled car accident lawyer in Las Vegas is committed to providing personalized attention and professional representation for your case. Contact us or call 702-680-1111 for a free consultation.

As founder of Gina Corena & Associates, she is dedicated to fighting for the rights of the people who suffer life-changing personal injuries in car, truck and motorcycle accidents as well as other types of personal injury. Gina feels fortunate to serve the Nevada community and hold wrongdoers accountable for their harm to her clients.

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