Vehicles that drive themselves sound like something from science fiction, but autonomous cars are not only real, they've been in development—and on the road—for years. Though vehicles with automated technologies were touted as being safer than their human-operated counterparts, so far, the reality hasn't lived up to that ideal.
In fact, semi-autonomous vehicles from manufacturers have repeatedly been involved in accidents, so much so that they've drawn the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agency has opened multiple investigations into autopilot crashes as a result.
Hurt in a crash with a driver who was using an autonomous vehicle setting? You may be entitled to compensation. Here's what you need to know about this emerging technology, auto accident cases in which it played a role, and how our law firm can help you recover fair compensation.
The Promise of Autonomous Vehicles
According to the research from the NHTSA, a shocking 94 percent of all serious auto accidents are caused by human error or choices. Safety experts have long posited that fully autonomous vehicles that are better equipped to spot hazards and react to them more quickly could dramatically reduce errors—in turn reducing the number of accidents and the severity of their consequences. Eliminating the majority of traffic crashes and their costs could have significant benefits for society. Self-driving vehicles could also increase mobility for individuals with disabilities.
That's not all. One of the most fascinating aspects of fully autonomous vehicle technology is that it would allow vehicles on the road to cooperate, reducing congestion and speeding along the flow of traffic.
Levels of Vehicles Automation
The NHTSA recognizes six different levels of automation, which are as follows:
- Level 0. A human driver fully controls the vehicle.
- Level 1. Drivers can sometimes use an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) to help them with steering, braking, or accelerating, but not both at the same time.
- Level 2. An ADAS can control both steering, and braking or accelerating, simultaneously in some cases. However, a human driver must remain attentive and perform other driving tasks.
- Level 3. An automated driving system (ADS) can perform all driving tasks under certain circumstances, but the human driver must remain vigilant and be ready to regain control of the vehicle. When not using the ADS, the human driver must control the vehicle and perform driving tasks on their own.
- Level 4. An ADS performs all driving tasks and monitors the road in select circumstances. When the ADS is in use, it isn't necessary for the human driver to pay attention.
- Level 5. An ADS can handle all the driving, all the time. The occupants of the vehicle are passengers and don't have to be involved in any aspects of driving.
As of July 2021, there are still no fully autonomous vehicles on the market in the United States. However, there are developments being made and vehicles being tested to acheive full autonomy very soon.
Companies at the Forefront of Automated Vehicle Technology
Companies around the world are in a race to get their autonomous cars on the road and, so far, Waymo (formerly called the Google self-driving car project), Argo AI, and Baidu are among those leading the pack. However, the popularity of (and the hype surrounding) Tesla's Autopilot feature might give you a different impression.
An important thing to note: While the name of the feature makes it sound like Autopilot-equipped Tesla's can handle the full task of driving, that isn't actually the case. Tesla Autopilot is a suite of advanced driver-assistance features and, despite being described as “full self-driving capability,” is actually just a Level 2 automation system. As mentioned above, this means that the vehicle can, in some cases does control steering and braking or acceleration at the same time, but the human driver must remain vigilant and perform other driving tasks.
Self-Driving Cars on the Road
There are a surprising number of companies currently testing various self-driving cars throughout the country, such as:
- Cruise (a company affiliated with General Motors and Honda)
- And others
Some of the above companies, as well as Aurora, Tesla, and TuSimple, are also testing autonomous, self-driving semi-trucks. For example, a commercial truck from the California-based tech firm TuSimple successfully completed a 951-mile journey from Nogales, Arizona, to Oklahoma City in May 2021.
Automonous Crashes and Concerns
Tesla vehicles have been involved in a number of concerning crashes, more than two dozen of which are under investigation by the NHTSA. Additionally, drivers who've used Tesla's “self-driving” Autopilot feature have reported problems with the system, some quite worrisome. For example, the partially autonomous program:
- Attempted to drive under a railroad crossing arm while a train sped past
- Attempted to drive directly into the wall of a parking garage
- Attempted dangerous left turns
- Clipped at least one curb
- Allowed a driver to set a maximum speed of 90 on a street with a 35 mile-per-hour speed limit
Though the system has a safety feature that is supposed to ensure there's a human driver at the ready, multiple Tesla owners have filmed themselves “tricking” the system into thinking they're in the driver's seat when they're really elsewhere in the car.
California Car Accident Case Basics
Injured in a crash caused by a driver using the autonomous features of their car? Here are some key points to keep in mind if you're considering filing an insurance claim or lawsuit:
- Statute of limitations. California gives you just two years to file a claim against the person who caused the crash in which you were hurt. Waiting too long to take legal action can cause your case to be thrown out. Consult an attorney as soon as possible to ensure they have plenty of time to build a strong case.
- Comparative negligence. The Golden State follows the pure comparative negligence standard, which means you may still be able to collect compensation for damages, even if you were partially to blame for the crash.
- Potential damages. Depending on the facts of your case, you may be entitled to compensation for economic and non-economic damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, reduced quality of life, and other losses.
- What you have to prove. In order to obtain fair compensation, you and your attorney will have to show that: 1) the defendant owed you a duty of care, 2) they breached that duty, 3) the breach of duty caused the crash, and 4) you sustained injuries or losses as a result.
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