Who Is Liable in an Accident with a Self-Driving Car?

Posted on behalf of Henness & Haight on Jun 11, 2015 in Car Accident News

We are entering a new age in transportation. Self-driving cars are now being actively tested in markets all over the world and are starting to make a mark on the roads. Along with these vehicles, however, comes a new concern. At least 90 percent of auto accidents deal with human error. Since self-driving cars theoretically eliminate this error, the question of liability arises.

Determining Fault

If you purchase a self-driving car, say from Google, which has several roaming the streets right now, and you get into a collision, who is responsible?

Are you at fault because you are nominally operating the vehicle, even though it is driving itself?

Is Google at fault because it designed and built the machine?

After all, you are now, in realistic terms, simply a passenger in a robotic vehicle. The vehicle itself is operated by lines of code and algorithms placed into it by the company who sold it to you. To dial it down even further, the programming comes down to a specific group of coders within the company. Are they, then, responsible?

The Problem of Determination

Google has argued that it should be held liable for accidents or driving violations. However, there are factors that go beyond programming and algorithms. Every vehicle requires upkeep and maintenance, which is the responsibility of its owner. If failure to engage in proper upkeep is a factor in the crash, does that put responsibility back in the hands of the vehicle's owner?

Some are arguing that the robot itself should be extended a concept of "legal personhood" and granted legal obligations and rights. In such a case, the robot itself could be held responsible. In such a case, it would be difficult to pursue liability, since robots don't have assets or money to pay out damages.

Mistakes That Aren't Mistakes

A self-driving car is capable of making mistakes, which are not really mistakes. Such a vehicle will be programmed to obey all traffic laws. This means that if it encounters an obstruction, the vehicle will be more likely to stop and sit than to cross traffic lines to go around the obstruction. It also means that it will not exceed the speed limit under any circumstances, which in some cases (such as passing) could create hazards.


For drivers who carry insurance (and all drivers should), the problem of where the compensation comes from is the same as with any other accident. The vehicle will be insured, so if it is found at fault, the insurance will have to pay. Problems come when damages exceed coverage. At this point, there are no easy answers to this question. We are entering uncharted waters in our society, where robotic machines are taking over for traditionally human acts. The only things that are certain are that the problems will have to be sorted, and Las Vegas personal injury attorneys will continue to advocate for their clients. If you are ever involved in an accident with a self-driving car, take a look at our motor vehicle accidents page and call us for a consultation today.