It seems we are living more in the future than ever, as numerous companies have successfully developed self-driving cars. Many of these companies are based in California. One of these is the Silicon Valley based company Waymo, which has accumulated more than 20 million miles in various states including Arizona and California.
While Waymo maintains a relatively safe driving record, its vehicles have been involved in minor accidents. In 2019 a Waymo car was involved in an accident in Phoenix when a Waymo minivan suddenly braked for no apparent reason. This caused a red pickup truck to swerve and clip the back of the van.
Similarly, in 2020, a Waymo vehicle stopped as it was approaching an intersection, despite the fact that the light was green. This caused a police officer to rear end the car. Neither accident resulted in any injuries.
In response to these accidents, Waymo has stressed that state laws often presume the driver that rear ends another car to be at fault. But given the facts, it’s difficult to accept that the Waymo vehicles were not at least partially responsible.
Rather, the accidents seem to perfectly illustrate potential issues with self-driving vehicles. As remarkable as they are, self-driving vehicles are simply are not yet able to deal with every complex situation they may face, and in some cases, as quickly as human drivers.
Liability issues associated with self-driving vehicles
Difficult questions of law arise as we consider the implications of sharing the roads with self-driving vehicles. It is still unclear who will become liable for these types of accidents once self-driving cars become available to the public. Will the owner be liable, or perhaps the company that manufactured and sold the vehicle? How will other drivers prove they were not at fault for rear ending a self-driving car? What if two self-driving cars collide?
Overall, self-driving cars do seem to be relatively safe. Of all the accidents Waymo vehicles have been involved in, for example, no one has been seriously injured or killed. Regardless, it’s clear that self-driving vehicles can still make mistakes.
Therefore, there is reason to think that someone could get seriously injured or killed in the future. Accordingly, laws will need to be updated to address these liability issues.