Accidents Caused By Highly-Autonomous Vehicles

In 2017, Attorney Marzzacco lectured on insurance and liability issues of HAVs at the first ever PennDOT/DCED Automated Vehicle Summit. Attorney Marzzacco also authored an article in the Legal Intelligencer entitled, "Highly Automated Vehicles in Pennsylvania: Where Are We and Where Are We Headed?"

The evolution of the automotive industry in the United States continues, changing from traditional to "highly-automated" vehicles (HAVs). Every licensed driver has either operated or has been a passenger in a traditional vehicle—one that requires the knowledge, skill and effort of a human being to navigate our current system of roadways. Motor vehicles have been around since the early 1900s and have continually made technological and safety advancements throughout their history. The most recent advances in research and development indicate that truly self-driving cars are in the immediate future. Someday soon, we may no longer be the drivers of our own cars.

What Constitutes A Highly-Automated Vehicle?

An HAV is a vehicle that performs dynamic driving tasks through the use of a combination of hardware, software, cameras, lasers, sensors and actuators. Partially autonomous vehicles, meaning those that require input and intervention from a human driver, exist on our roadways today. Fully autonomous or driverless vehicles, however, have not hit the streets just yet.

As driverless car research and development continues, SAE International, a worldwide association of engineers and experts in various commercial vehicle industries, has organized automated vehicles into six categories that each have a number from zero to five:

  • Level 0 vehicles must be driven by a human and do not offer any automation.
  • Level 1 through Level 3 vehicles offer some autonomous capabilities, such as increased collision-avoidance technology (CAT) features and more automation at each level. CAT features include blind-spot detection, lane departure warning and control, automatic braking with collision warning, and some form of auto-pilot; however, each still requires input and intervention from a human driver.
  • Level 4 vehicles can operate with human intervention but do not need us to perform dynamic driving tasks.
  • Level 5 vehicles are fully autonomous and driverless. Some manufactures will not even include steering wheels or other controls in their models.

How Will Fully Automated Vehicles Work On The Road?

Once implemented and integrated into our transportation system, a fully automated or self-driving vehicle will be "connected" to communicate with other vehicles on the road and with the infrastructure in place to support full automation. Once connected, the vehicle's highly-automated driving system will create and maintain an internal map of its surroundings—which will include traffic signals, other vehicles, pedestrians and other markers that the vehicle's system will detect to keep it operating safely on the roadway.

The car's system will plot its path and basically send instructions to the actuators to accelerate, turn and brake the car, so a human becomes nothing more than a mere passenger. If the vehicle is not fully connected, the vehicle will presumably still rely on some level of communication, such as with other vehicles on the road perhaps, to allow its safe operation.

What Is The Commonwealth's Status On The HAV Transformation Process?

In Pennsylvania, researchers and manufacturers of various HAV technologies have already begun testing on our roads. For example, as of September 2016 and to this date, Uber has begun and continues testing its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh. Carnegie Melon University researchers have played a prominent role as well, developing the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Connected and Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Laboratory.

Will HAVs Eliminate Automobile Accidents (And Related Lawsuits)?

If the infrastructure and vehicle technologies function properly some day, we will have a transportation system that operates without the primary cause of motor vehicle crashes: human error. In a perfect world, HAV technology will continue to develop, and the federal, state and local governments responsible for implementing appropriate infrastructure will do so at the same pace. Until then, however, the ever-evolving state of HAV technology will present unique and complex issues that researchers, planners, government officials, lawmakers and personal injury lawyers will have to address. As long as human error produces car crashes and injuries, determining the proper at-fault driver is rather simple, and the typical cause of action is negligence. Until that point, unfortunately, we will continue to experience crashes and those crashes will hurt and kill people on our roadways.

Other states have recently experienced fatal car crashes involving HAVs. If you or a loved one has been injured by an HAV, you need an experienced lawyer who can help you recover compensation from the company or individual responsible for the crash. Please contact us via email or phone at 717-260-3580 (866-321-5340 toll free).