Liability Issues With Driverless Cars

AUTHOR: A.J. Bruning | October 5, 2015
Liability Issues With Driverless Cars

Auto manufacturers are urging the development and marketing of vehicle-automation technology. There is significant research that suggests driverless cars have the potential to improve road travel safety by eliminating the human factor responsible for many errors, but with this cutting edge technology comes new liability issues.

How does a Driverless Car Work?

The motivation behind designing cars that operate and navigate without constant human involvement is to counteract the most common contributing factors to auto accidents such as cell phone use, operating in car entertainment systems, or managing congested or complex roadways. [1] The initial steps towards driverless car technology is traced to anti-lock braking systems from the 1980s which removed the need for a driver to pump the brake pedal in order to keep the wheels from locking up [2] Manufacturers continued to minimize the efforts required by drivers and increase the automation of a vehicle through technological improvements to traction systems, stability control, cruise control, and parking assistance. Driverless cars have taken a technological leap through systems such as Lidar which allow for light detection and ranging similar to radar and sonar. [3] The basic structure of the system in a driverless car allows mapping of the points in space including moving objects like cars and pedestrians through laser beams that are transported to an internal computer that is equipped with secondary maps of stationary elements such as traffic lights and crosswalks.[4]

Determining Liability

Though semiautonomous vehicles are presently not a reality for private owners, it is practically a certainty that as the cars phase out of testing cycles and into the market, there will be a rise of legal issues with driverless cars, beginning with the complexity of separating fault between the automated car system and the driver.5 One of the biggest concerns is for defects or oversights on the part of the technology within the driverless cars. For instance, if the scanning laser technology fails to identify a pedestrian or car in the pathway, traditional liable parties could include the manufacturer of the car or the driver behind the wheel, but since he or she is not actually driving, a question arises as to how liable a driver can be in relation to the fault on the part of the automated system.6 This dilemma will require legal determination of what responsibility a driver has to stay in control or be on notice in the event of a defect or malfunction within the autonomous vehicle’s system. These sort of issues will result in a push towards new legislation and a new era of product liability cases involving complex issues such as determining a manufacturer’s negligence when an automated system fails to anticipate or adapt to sudden weather condition changes or when there is a failure to warn consumers as to the level of notice they should maintain.

Contact an Experienced St. Louis Personal Injury Attorney for a Free Consultation

As technological advances continue, there will be new liability issues for both drivers and manufactures. If you are injured in an auto accident involving any type of automatic technology, it is important to discuss the circumstances of your injury with an experienced auto accident attorney who can help to protect your legal rights and interests. To contact a personal injury attorney for a free consultation please feel free to call the The Bruning Law Firm trial attorneys at 314-735-8100.


If you or someone you care about has been seriously injured in an auto accident, contact The Bruning Law Firm today. We provide the comprehensive, professional legal representation you deserve at a time when you need it most.

Call or contact our office online today to schedule a free consultation.



A.J. Bruning


I was born and raised to represent individuals who have been needlessly injured. I mean that literally. At a young age my father would tell me about the clients he was representing. I would meet them and take pride in their admiration of my father. I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer and represent clients that needed my help.

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