Uber reached a settlement with the family of the pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, killed by the driverless Uber car in Tempe, Arizona earlier in March. There was no indication that Herzberg’s family filed a lawsuit against Uber. Nonetheless, the company settled, possibly to avoid the details of its self-driving technology being exposed to the public.
Arguments of SafetyAs this exciting new technology inches closer to being a permanent fixture on our roads, experts must determine if autonomous cars offer more safety and efficiency than traditional cars. Some argue that the integration of computer-driven cars will reduce the number of accidents caused by human error. Others believe that robot behavior is unpredictable and may cause more risks than benefits. Director of Consumer Watchdog’s privacy and technology project, John Simpson, argues this point asking, “will Uber’s robot car prioritize the safety of the occupants of the vehicle or pedestrians it encounters?” The manufacturers of the driverless technology could be held liable for this kind of decision.
Determining LiabilityAccidents involving a driverless car pose many challenges, including determining liability. Investigators must determine whether the accident was caused by a negligent driver or faulty technology. An autonomous vehicle has a complex system of technology that includes many components often made by multiple manufacturers. There could be many parties investigated to determine liability. The driverless cars themselves could actually aid in these investigations due to advanced technological components providing ample crash evidence, including speed tracking and video footage. This technology could very well bring newfound clarity to auto accident cases by providing detailed documentation of the accident.
Investigating the AccidentThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the fatal Arizona accident to determine if the safety driver and/or vehicle could have detected the pedestrian. They will look at several components, including the Volvo involved, the site of the accident, video data from the driverless car’s sensors and computer, and information about the Uber safety driver and victim. NTSB will release a detailed report with its findings in the coming months.
NTSB’s report will go a long way toward helping determine liability for the accident. If the accident was caused by a failure of any of the many products comprising the driverless technology, the manufacturers of those products could be held liable.
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