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Product Liability Litigation Could Increase As Driverless Technology Spreads, P.1

Automatic driving technology is becoming increasingly common in new vehicles. There are a lot of permutations to the concept, with various features and systems that have been developed and which are under development. Recognizing the growing technology, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has adopted the SAE International schematic, which identifies a handful of categories from less automation to more.

The first level of automation can be classified as driver assistance, which involves situational modification of speed and steering. Level two is partial automation, which involves limited automatic control of speed and steering, with the driver maintaining the ability to correct if needed. Some vehicles have come out with level three features, which can be classified as conditional automation, in which the vehicle completely controls speed, steering, and environment monitoring while allowing the driver to correct if necessary.

Most vehicles coming out on the market fall within these three categories, which involve a human driver who monitors the operation of the automated driving feature. Level four involves high automation, in which a human driver is no longer necessary at all in some driving modes, while level five involves full automation, in which there is no need for a human driver at all. These technologies are much more limited at the present time.

A great deal has yet to be worked out in terms of handling liability for accidents involving failures of automatic driving technology. Some, including leading manufacturers of automatic driving technology such as Tesla, have argued that the insurance industry will have to change to account for the reduction in risk presented by vehicles with automatic driving technology.

Still, there is the question of who will be held liable for accidents when automatic driving technology does fail. The question is easier to answer for high and full automation technology failures, liability for which is likely to fall on the shoulders of manufacturers via product liability litigation. Automatic driving technologies which are limited to certain functions and which require human intervention for situational correction, though, may be more complicated since there is likely to be the question of the relative role of human error and technology failure in the accident.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue and the importance of accident victims working with an experienced car accident attorney in Lexington as these issues are addressed in the courts.


Business Insider, “Tesla is already showing how the insurance industry will be disrupted by self-driving cars,” Danielle Muoio, Feb. 26, 2017.

Denso Dynamics, “NHTSA Adopts SAE Automated Driving Scale To Get Everyone On The Same Page,” Accessed March 7, 2017.