What Causes Fatal Self-Driving Car Accidents?

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Self-driving car accidents in the U.S. have killed several people. Although system glitches played a part in each of these wrecks, human error was still ultimately to blame.

All autonomous vehicles currently available to consumers in the U.S. require the driver to be ready to take control of them if necessary. Unfortunately, many drivers ignore that requirement and don’t pay attention to the road or their car’s performance. This negligence can lead to accidents, some of them fatal.

Many injured car accident victims rely on the Mike Morse Law Firm for assistance, regardless of the kinds of cars involved.

Fatal Accidents Caused by Autonomous Vehicles


Perhaps because self-driving technology is still in its infancy, AV accidents often make it into the news. There have been several widely publicized fatal collisions in recent years.

March 18, 2018

Elaine Herzberg was the first pedestrian killed by a self-driving car in the U.S. The human safety driver was watching something on her phone rather than watching the road during a nighttime testing drive of an AV.

The AV didn’t classify Ms. Herzberg as a person. She was walking her bicycle in a crosswalk; the system first thought she was a vehicle, then a bike. This is an obvious system error, but the safety driver could have prevented the accident if she had been paying attention.

March 23, 2018

Walter Huang died when his self-driving car veered off the road, hitting a safety barrier at 71 miles per hour. Mr. Huang drove the same route to work daily, and the car had headed off the road in the same spot several times previously.

On the day of his death, a game app was open on his phone, indicating that Mr. Huong wasn’t paying attention to the road. The accident could probably have been avoided if he had been watching; he had prevented a collision in the same spot before by taking control of his AV.

August 2019

An AV rear-ended a pickup truck in California, killing a 15-year-old truck passenger. The AV didn’t try to slow down until less than a second before the crash; in fact, it sped up briefly. The AV’s driver didn’t notice that it was rapidly approaching another vehicle.

Many AV crashes occur because self-driving technology doesn’t correctly identify roadway obstacles. Automakers continually strive to update these systems to prevent further wrecks. However, drivers are still ultimately responsible for controlling their vehicles with the current level of autonomous driving available in the U.S. today.

Levels of Autonomous Driving


Because so many auto manufacturers are developing self-driving automobiles using different names for their systems, standard terms to describe levels of autonomy are necessary.

Level 0 – No Automation

Technology provides momentary assistance by giving the driver warnings, helping to keep the car in a lane, and automatic emergency braking. However, the driver operates all functions of the car at all times.

Level 1 – Driver Assistance

Level one AVs use either steering assistance or adaptive cruise control, but not both. Drivers must pay close attention and be ready to disengage automatic driving systems if needed.

Level 2 – Partial Driving Automation

Drivers can use steering assistance and adaptive cruise control systems simultaneously, but they still have to be attentive. Level two Avs are the highest level available to U.S. consumers.

Level 3 – Conditional Driving Automation

Some automakers may receive regulatory approval to release level three cars in the U.S. later in 2022. These cars can drive themselves when their drivers choose to use this feature, but drivers are still responsible for their vehicle’s performance.

Level 4 – High Driving Automation

Level four cars can function without a human driver; in fact, some of them may not have brake or gas pedals and steering wheels. These AVs will have preprogrammed travel routes and might not operate in inclement weather.

A few driverless taxis are already in operation, but the general public can’t purchase level four vehicles yet.

Level 5 – Full Driving Automation

Level five cars can operate anywhere in all weather conditions. People in these vehicles are strictly passengers. This technology isn’t fully developed yet, and consumers won’t be able to buy level five cars for a few more years.

Some Self-Driving Vehicle Advertising is Misleading


Advertisements for self-driving cars are sometimes misleading, implying that the cars can operate without any driver interaction. Automakers include detailed warnings in owner’s manuals, but the general public is conditioned to believe what they see in commercials, videos, and printed advertisements. At best, misleading verbiage and photos cause confusion about vehicle capabilities.

AV Drivers Are Responsible


Until the U.S. has level four and five self-driving vehicles, AV drivers are still liable for accidents they cause. Although it’s tempting for drivers to relax while behind the wheel, today’s technology isn’t ready.

The most common human error that causes wrecks is distracted driving, which is a form of legal negligence. Distracted drivers:

  • Daydream
  • Talk to or look at their passengers
  • Look for items in bags or that fell into floorboards
  • Use their cell phones
  • Brush their hair or put on makeup
  • Focus on things other than driving

When level four and five self-driving cars become available, liability for accidents may change. Although AVs are supposed to be safer than regular cars, there are still things that can go wrong.

Potential Risks With Self-Driving Cars


AVs rely on software, cameras, radar, and sensors to operate. Any of those things can malfunction. In addition, AVs have a cybersecurity risk because hackers might infiltrate systems. These cars use lithium-ion batteries, which are very flammable.

Automakers are performing extensive testing, using both simulations and actual vehicles, on automated driving systems. They use data from this testing to evaluate and improve self-driving capabilities.

Self-Driving Car Accidents


Studies show that human error is responsible for 99% of accidents involving AVs. Because current levels of technology require active human interaction at all times, drivers are fully liable for accidents they cause. If you sustain injuries or a loved one dies because of an AV accident, you can still seek damages from the driver.

Mike Morse Law Firm Can Help


Accidents happen every day, and many of them cause injuries. If someone else’s negligence brings about an accident, victims can often obtain compensation for injuries they sustain. However, insurance companies don’t like paying this compensation and often offer ridiculously low settlements.

The Mike Morse Law Firm attorneys fight insurance company reluctance daily. We know that you didn’t ask for your injuries or their effect on your life, and we believe that you deserve maximum compensation. We won’t let greedy insurance companies take advantage of our clients.

We invite injured accident victims to contact us for a free, no-obligation case evaluation. We’ll assess the details of your accident and injury and tell you if you have a viable personal injury claim. Best of all, our clients benefit from our promise: No Win, No Fees Guaranteed. You won’t pay us until we win compensation for you.

With over 40 attorneys, the Mike Morse Law Firm is Michigan’s largest personal injury firm. You can reach us 24/7 at 855-MIKE-WINS, or by live chat. We’ll respond within two hours after you submit our online form. You can also email us. Let us show you why so many people turn to us for help.

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