Liability in Driverless Car Accidents

Liability in Driverless Car Accidents

self driving car accidents

Some of us of a certain age remember when cars driving themselves was a concept reserved for The Jetsons. But the truth is we are living in the future we dreamed of then. Therefore, a car driving without a driver is a very real possibility on the roadway.

But accidents don’t just happen because of human error. When we live in a world with driverless cars, we need to concern ourselves with what happens when one of those cars is involved in an accident.

In this article, we will explore the answer to a very new question – How Does a Driverless Car Work?

There are many terms to describe this new driving option: Driverless, autonomous, and self-driving. Whichever one you use, the concept is the same. It’s a car that is “smart” enough to drive itself using special tools like sensors, cameras, and computers. 

The sensors act as the eyes and ears of the driver and watch for things such as road directions, traffic lights, other cars, curbs, and anything else an actual human driver may observe. 

The software in the car then takes all the information from the sensors and makes the plan for where the car should go and how fast it should go there. This information is sent to the car’s actuators, which control the car’s speed, stopping, and turning. 

But while an autonomous car was designed to make driving safer by taking out the element of human error, the truth is that these cars are like any computer or piece of technology and not immune from glitches and malfunctions. 

When this happens and an accident occurs, who is liable if there’s technically not a human controlling the wheel?

Liability of the Future

In car accidents involving human drivers, the question of liability is usually pretty straightforward. The person liable for the accident is the person who exhibited any type of negligence. But the emergence of driverless cars changes things and can make them a lot more complicated, potentially causing greater delays in reaching settlements for victims. 

In the case of a collision involving a driverless car, liability will most likely come down to three different parties: The driver/operator, the manufacturer, and the city or state where it occurred. Here’s how each party may be liable in this type of accident:


While the sensors and computer do all the work in operating the vehicle, driverless cars still require a human behind the wheel. Popular driverless cars like the Tesla even require the operator’s hands to be on the wheel the majority of the time and will alert the driver if this isn’t happening. If the operator is negligent by keeping their hands off the wheel or being distracted by other things to take control if an accident is about to occur, the operator may be held liable for the accident due to their negligence. 


A manufacturer may be liable for the accident if it’s determined that it was caused by a malfunctioning sensor or an issue with the computer’s hardware or software. Lawsuits against the manufacturer may also revolve around the car’s design and whether it was designed in a way that puts drivers at risk. A manufacturer could also be held liable if it’s found it didn’t meet specific regulations and industry standards in its design and manufacturing. 

City or State Governments

It often falls on the city or state government to design and enforce rules and regulations to keep the public safe. This is certainly the case with driving in areas with laws such as speed limits, light requirements, and driver’s license restrictions. Given their responsibility to their citizens, cities, and states could also be found liable for driverless cars accidents if they were negligent in implementing and enforcing adequate safety laws and regulations that govern driverless cars. 

Zirkin & Schmerling Law: Maryland Car Accident Lawyers

The future is here, but accidents still happen. That’s why you must have the best team of attorneys on your side who stay current on the issues of liability in all kinds of accident situations. The car accident attorneys at Zirkin & Schmerling are just the team you need with our collective years of experience and our dedication to staying current on how you can best be served in self driving car accidents or any type of accident. 

If you’ve been in a car accident involving a car with or without a human driver, contact our team today or call us at 410-753-4611 and take advantage of our free consultation. Our expert attorneys can help you get the settlement you deserve.