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Self-Driving Cars: Futuristic or Fatal?

As technology becomes more advanced, knowing your rights on the road becomes even more important. On March 20, 2018, a self-driving car created by Uber struck and killed a 49-year-old pedestrian while she was crossing the street. A tragedy like this implicates several complications that would not occur in an ordinary traffic accident. For example, apportionment of fault and the exchange of insurance information are components of almost every traffic accident, yet would be nearly impossible to resolve quickly without an actual person behind the wheel of the car.

How widely-used are these vehicles?

Several companies including Uber, Google, and Waymo are testing self-driving vehicles across the United States. Since 2009, Waymo estimates that its vehicles have driven over five million miles. Uber estimates that its vehicles have covered over three million miles. State governments have attempted to attract these companies to their markets by promising to limit regulations and legislation that impedes the development of this technology. Unfortunately, the lack of regulation on these vehicles makes obtaining compensation for injuries caused by self-driving cars especially complicated.

Do These Vehicles Have Insurance?

Under state law, all motor vehicles are required to carry liability insurance. However, insurance companies are wary of providing policies to self-driving cars as the technology is still relatively new. Recently, a tech-startup called Trov has promised to insure all of the self-driving cars operated by Waymo. This development will likely increase the frequency and aggressiveness of tech companies in developing self-driving car technology assuming that other companies like Trov will provide insurance coverage.

It remains unclear the type or extent of insurance coverage that will be provided. In most states, the minimum amount of liability insurance required is $25,000 per person. While some companies may provide coverage that greatly exceeds this amount, others may not. Some states allow an injured party to go after the personal assets of the at-fault driver if they did not carry sufficient insurance coverage. However, this would become impossible if there was no at-fault driver. Thus, if Uber carried a $25,000 policy on the vehicle that struck and killed the victim on March 20, her family may have no recourse for their suffering.

How Safe Are These Vehicles Compared to Cars Driven by People?

Self-driving car companies proclaim that this technology will eliminate many of the problems caused by distracted driving, impaired driving, and road rage. They argue that removing emotions from driving will reduce the frequency of rash decision-making at potentially dangerous speeds. Statistically, these assertions have been correct so far. In 2016, 37,461 people died in traffic-related accidents in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 90% of these accidents were caused by human error. In comparison, only 14 accidents have been reported involving self-driving vehicles, with two of them resulting in fatalities.

What Should I Do If I Am Struck By A Self-Driving Car?

As with almost any traffic accident, the first thing you should do if you are struck by a self-driving vehicle is contact the police. Law enforcement can document the crash, identify the owner of the car, and help determine who caused the accident. The second thing to do is obtain the insurance information of the other car or cars involved. Many self-driving vehicles still have an emergency backup driver behind the steering wheel. While this individual may not be operating the car, they are likely familiar with the location of the insurance information and can help speed the process along. After you've collected the information, the final step is to contact an attorney. As this area of the law is still extremely new and undeveloped, insurance companies will likely delay the resolution of your claim to prevent overpaying for injuries that you have suffered. An experienced attorney will aggressively pursue your claim to ensure that you are properly compensated for your suffering.

This piece was co-written by Attorney Barry Levy and Law Clerk Adam Pitchel.

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