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For all of automotive history, the vehicles on the road have been driven by human beings. When accidents occurred, a driver who was at fault could be held liable for injuries caused to others. But now we are entering a world where cars are beginning to drive themselves. So, if a car is driving itself and gets into a crash in New Jersey, who is liable for the resulting injuries?

First, we should remember that we are still many years away from true autonomous vehicles. The cars being sold today as “self-driving” still require a good deal of human driver input. The Society of Automotive Engineers ranks these vehicles on a scale of levels of automation as follows:

  • Level 0 — No automation. The driver does everything.
  • Level 1 — The driver does everything but the vehicle offers minor assistance, such as lane departure warnings.
  • Level 2 — Partial automation of steering and acceleration exist but the driver remains in control.
  • Level 3 — The car can operate independently. Steering, braking and acceleration are automated but the driver must be alert and ready to take over.
  • Level 4 — The car can perform all functions under certain conditions without intervention by the driver. The driver can take control if they wish.
  • Level 5 — Fully automated vehicles can operate without a driver. They might not even have a steering wheel or gas pedal.

As of late 2022, no mass market vehicle exceeds level 2, which means a human being is still in charge.

Since self-driving is so new, what happens when such a vehicle causes a crash and injures someone is gray area. Liability could be shared by these parties, depending on the circumstances:

  • The human operator — It is possible for the human in charge to be negligent, for example by not paying attention or by failing to take control of the vehicle when its self-driving system couldn’t handle something unexpected.
  • The vehicle manufacturerSelf-driving cars have mechanical parts that can fail, including brakes, steering linkages, tires and other critical components. A defective part could subject the maker to liability.
  • The software developer — Many self-driving technologies are made by vendors and installed by car manufacturers. If the software malfunctions or performs poorly, such as by failing to recognize a child in the street and stop the car, then the technology provider might bear liability.
  • Other drivers — In a crash caused at least in part by the driver of another vehicle, that driver and his or her insurance company could share in liability.

At Seigel Law in Ridgewood, New Jersey, our lawyers are keeping up with developments in self-driving vehicles and monitoring injury cases involving them. If you were hurt in a self-driving car accident in New Jersey and need compensation, we are ready to fight for you. Call 201-444-4000 or by contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today.

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