Self-Driving Vehicles and Car Accident Risks in Rancho Bernardo

nabeel-syed-2856-copy-300x200If you live in Rancho Bernardo and regularly commute within the San Diego area, you probably know that self-driving cars have become a frequent topic of conversation and concern in California. Many Southern California residents are not yet ready to share the road with autonomous vehicles, while others in the industry are pushing for the expansion of the self-driving car market. On the one hand, those in favor of self-driving cars argue, for instance, that these vehicles “will help create a safer, cleaner, and more mobile society,” according to a recent article in Science Magazine. On the other hand, some consumer safety advocates contend that the costs associated with autonomous vehicles may not outweigh the safety benefits, according to a recent report in USA Today.

Where does California law stand on autonomous vehicles and auto accidents? How should Rancho Bernardo residents assess the risks and benefits of self-driving cars?

Liability and Manufacturer Specifications

California laws have been more willing than those in many other states to accommodate self-driving vehicles. However, a recent decision from the California DMV suggests that it may have some questions about autonomous vehicles and liability. More specifically, according to an article in, “the state’s DMV has eliminated a planned rule . . . that would have let companies avoid liability for an autonomous vehicle crash if the machine hadn’t been maintained to manufacturer specs.” To put that another way, the rule would have allowed the vehicle manufacturer to be free of liability, regardless of the cause of the crash, if the vehicle owner had not properly maintained the car. General Motors (GM) suggested the rule initially.

The California DMV opened the rule for comments, and ultimately decided against implementing the rule. As such, autonomous vehicle manufacturers can still bear at least some of the liability in a crash caused by, for instance, an error in the vehicle’s code even if the car’s owner did not have it maintained to manufacturer specs.

Do Self-Driving Car Benefits Outweigh the Risks?

As more autonomous vehicles are designed and manufactured, consumer advocates in California and across the country are also asking whether the safety benefits actually outweigh the risks. According to the USA Today report, self-driving cars will have to make “choices” when forced into “no-win” accident situations. In other words, the vehicle may have to decide, in effect, who lives and who dies when a traffic collision is unavoidable.

More specifically, self-driving cars are programmed to strike “the smaller thing” when crashing into something is unavoidable—such as another vehicle or a tree. However, as the report emphasizes, “what if the smaller thing is a child?” According to a study conducted by Asim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology at University of California, Irvine, most drivers believe that autonomous vehicles should behave in a way that leaves the fewest number of people hurt or killed in the event of a crash, but at the same time, there are ethical questions that could limit the reach of the self-driving car market.

Contact a Rancho Bernardo Car Accident Attorney

If you or someone you love sustained injuries in a motor vehicle crash, you should discuss your case with a car accident lawyer in Rancho Bernardo. Contact the Walton Law Firm today to learn more about how we can assist you.

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(image courtesy of Nabeel Syed)

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