First Pedestrian Fatality Involving a Driverless Car: Who is at Fault?

man at the scene of a car accident

To date, the precise cause of the failure that led to the first autonomous car crash to kill a pedestrian has yet to be determined, thus, it is possible that there will be several entities who share liability for the accident. Companies including Google, Uber, and others that are developing driverless vehicle technology can be held liable when their creations cause accidents, injuries, and fatalities. As these technologies become more widespread, it is a certainty that “bugs in the system” will lead to more accidents and more fatalities.

The First Fatality

Elaine Herzberg was the first non-driver to die at the hands of an autonomous vehicle. Herzberg was struck by an autonomous Uber vehicle as she pushed her bicycle across the street on the evening of March 18th. She survived the initial collision but succumbed to her injuries at the hospital. At the time of the accident, the vehicle was in self-drive mode, however, there was a backup driver who was sitting within the vehicle.

Accident Liability

Herzberg was jaywalking and not crossing the street at a marked intersection when the accident occurred. Under Arizona’s comparative negligence laws, this makes her partially responsible for causing the accident. The driver, who was meant to serve as a safeguard against the type of accident that occurred, is also partially responsible. Had the driver taken over control of the vehicle, it is possible the accident would have been avoided.

Uber, software engineers and sensor manufacturers who are developing the driverless vehicle technology can also be liable for the accident. Although the sensors appear to have detected Herzberg, faulty programming in the system caused the modified Volvo to “decide” not to take evasive action.

Rules and Regulations are Behind the Times

Regulations and rules that govern the development and implementation of driverless vehicle technology are limited. Uber tests most of their autonomous cars in Arizona because there are very few restrictions on vehicle testing. Even in states such as Nevada that issue permits for these vehicles, legislators have been lax in oversight as the technology races forward. The lack of regulation places the public at considerable risk.