The Challenges of Autonomous Vehicles

The Challenges of Autonomous VehiclesIn the heart of San Francisco, a pedestrian faced a life-threatening series of events when attempting to cross an intersection. Struck first by a conventional vehicle, she was then thrust beneath a Cruise autonomous vehicle and was pinned for several critical minutes before firefighters came to her rescue.

It’s an issue Texans should care about, as there are currently about 125 autonomous vehicles in Austin alone – and per the Texas Tribune, an unknown number of them operating throughout the state. As the prevalence of autonomous vehicles continues to grow, similar incidents are also becoming more common, raising serious questions about regulations and safety surrounding this new face of transportation technology.

The accident: a closer look

The collision described above occurred downtown around 9:30 P.M. Both the robotaxi and the regular vehicle were stopped side-by-side at a red light, with the pedestrian appearing shortly after the light turned green. The human-driven car struck the pedestrian first, who rolled across the windshield before being swept beneath the driverless car.

The autonomous vehicle braked immediately following the collision and remained motionless, leaving the victim trapped until emergency personnel arrived. Though the pedestrian was reported to have sustained multiple traumatic injuries, authorities noted that the specific source of each injury was unclear. Any of her wounds could potentially be attributed to either the AV, the human-operated vehicle, or both.

Other notable AV incidents

As autonomous vehicles become more widely used on our roads, additional stories about malfunctions continue to make headlines. One robotaxi incident details a collision with a fire truck en route to an emergency, highlighting failures regarding autonomous vehicles’ ability to detect and appropriately respond to emergency vehicles. Another notable incident involved an AV encroaching into areas marked off by caution tape. These occurrences, which not only disrupt traffic flow but also present safety risks, demand a full unpacking of the legal implications surrounding hazardous AV operations.

How are autonomous vehicles regulated?

Automatic vehicles have not yet reached the mainstream, but as technology advances, we will likely see them become more integrated into the American transportation system. Many states responded to the shift by establishing AV protocols, including specific permit processes for companies to test and deploy autonomous vehicles on public roads. These permits often come with conditions and reporting requirements.

Certain safety and performance standards are also in place for autonomous vehicles, obligating manufacturers to report accidents, disengagements (instances where human intervention is needed), and other safety-related incidents during testing. In some states, there are additional laws for insurance and liability, such as minimum coverage.

Texas, for example, has had laws on the books since 2017 to govern “automated motor vehicle operation.” Under our laws, AVs are covered by the same basic liability policies that all drivers are supposed to have. Of particular note is this bit of law: “In the event of an accident involving an automated motor vehicle, the automated motor vehicle or any human operator of the automated motor vehicle shall comply with Chapter 550.” (Chapter 550 of the Transportation Code mandates that anyone involved in an accident stay at the scene of the accident.) When Texas legislators wrote these laws, they did so anticipating a period where the vehicles themselves, if seems, would be held responsible for their own actions – though for now, it appears that they must be programed with software that would force them to stop after a car accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for regulating vehicle safety at the federal level. They have released guidelines for autonomous vehicles, including the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, which provides guidance on the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles. The federal government has also allocated funding for research and development in autonomous vehicle technology. This includes grants and programs to advance this area of technology and its integration into the transportation system.

Liability in Texas autonomous vehicle accidents

Unlike in other states, which are essentially building laws as they go, Texas’s 2017 law is very clear: “the owner of the automated driving system is considered the operator of the automated motor vehicle solely for the purpose of assessing compliance with applicable traffic or motor vehicle laws, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the vehicle while the vehicle is operating.” In other words, if your self-driving car breaks the law and hurts someone, you are responsible. It’s not much different than parents being liable if their child steals a car and hits someone while joyriding.

Of course, not every collision is the direct fault of a driver. As the accidents with the Cruise show us, the systems within these vehicles can and do fail. In such a such case, the manufacturer may be at least partially liable.

Finally, the State may share some liability as well. Part of the law passed in 2017 is that cities cannot regulate AVs. Sec. 545.452 of the Transportation Code says “A political subdivision of this state or a state agency may not impose a franchise or other regulation related to the operation of an automated motor vehicle or automated driving system.” That means the city of San Antonio has no say in how many of these cars are allowed on the roads, or in how they’re operated. In some specific circumstances, then, the State may bear some responsibility.

Building an AV accident case in San Antonio

Given the complexity of AV technology and the new regulatory landscape, navigating the aftermath of an autonomous vehicle accident can be a complicated ordeal. However, there are certain common elements that can help to clearly establish a timeline of events. AVs are typically equipped with dashcams and other monitoring technology, which record critical data regarding the sequence of events leading up to an accident. Yet it’s important to note that interpreting this technical data often requires specialized expertise.

Also, as with any personal injury case, witnesses and accident reconstruction experts can help to further clarify the cause and circumstances surrounding an accident. Their testimonies and analyses can serve to construct a comprehensive narrative, helping to establish liability and potentially supporting the victim’s claims for compensation. For injured parties considering legal action against an AV company or operator, it is highly advised to seek legal guidance from a dedicated San Antonio AV accident attorney.

While AVs promise enhanced safety through advanced automation, they also raise questions about accountability when accidents inevitably happen. If you’ve been injured in a robotaxi collision, work with a San Antonio car accident lawyer who puts your needs first. To pursue maximum compensation for your injuries and damages, call or contact Pat Maloney: Accident & Injury Attorney today for your free consultation.