People Aren't Sure If They'd Sue After An Accident With A Driverless Car

Illustration for article titled People Arent Sure If Theyd Sue After An Accident With A Driverless Car
Photo: Gene J. Puskar (AP)

A big looming question over this week’s news that an Uber self-driving car fatally struck a pedestrian is who should be held liable if an autonomous vehicle kills a person. If a new study by J.D. Power is any indication, many of us really have no idea.

J.D. Power teamed up with law firm Miller Canfield to examine the legal issues surrounding self-driving cars, and the report involved a survey of 1,500 drivers.


Here’s one key section that jumped out at me from the report:

Many respondents said that whether they would pursue legal action if they sustained an injury in an accident depended on the circumstances. For Level 0 and Level 3 vehicles, most respondents said they “didn’t know” whether they would pursue legal action (51% and 55%, respectively).

Respondents requested more information such as who or what (i.e., automation) was at fault, severity of the injury, and more circumstantial information about the incident. The level of uncertainty decreased for such an accident occurring with a Level 5 vehicle, though the reasons for uncertainty remained similar to Level 3 and Level 0.

The study is a lengthy read, but this section’s particularly fascinating. Yes, about half of drivers say they’d pursue legal action for a crash involving a fully-autonomous, driverless car. But nearly-half said they didn’t know.

For context, Level 3 here refers to cars with features that allow for automated driving in limited scenarios but require the driver to pay attention at all times. Level 5 is when the driver’s removed from the equation, and, for purposes of J.D. Power’s report, has no steering wheel or pedals—like the new car General Motors wants to make.


I think it’s safe to say there’s a lack of clarity from regulations and current laws about who should be held liable. And that indeed makes it confusing to try to sort out how to determine liability if a driver’s not in the picture, but a machine is.


What’s more, when it comes to a Level 3 car, like Audi’s upcoming (and potentially problematic) system, respondents were even less unsure about pursuing litigation. That’s an issue.

For respondents unwilling or unsure about pursuing litigation, insurance was the most likely option for pursuing resolution. ... However, Level 3 poses a unique reaction from this group of unwilling or unsure respondents, as they see the driver maintaining responsibility since the vehicle only has limited automation capability: “I know I’m partially responsible for taking over when the vehicle needs me to. An accident would be partially my fault.”


There’s a lot to dig into with this study, but this is one finding that should be taken into consideration as the discussion widens on liability in self-driving car crashes.

Senior Reporter, Jalopnik/Special Projects Desk

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