Automobile manufacturers are in a race to bring the first self-driving cars to the public market. Uber, the popular ride-hailing company, may have helped to accelerate this process, as they will start using autonomous cars in Pittsburgh within a matter of weeks.
Although to start the vehicles will have an Uber employee inside, is the company rushing the technology and risking the safety of their passengers and other drivers? Who will be liable when accidents occur?
Uber plans on replacing all of its current ride-hailing vehicles with self-driving Ford Focuses and Volvo XC90s. Using Pittsburgh as the test industry for the time being, they plan on offering free rides to passengers. Hopefully participants will understand potential liabilities when they accept these rides.
Since the law and insurance industry have yet to catch up with this new technology, the issue of liability has the potential to be very complex. In the case of self-driving cars where the Uber employee can still take control, who is responsible for an accident?
Depending on the situation, these accidents have the potential to be caused by a technology error or a mistake on the part of the back-up driver. The former would result in a product liability claim, the latter in a personal injury claim against Uber or the employee who should have taken control of the vehicle.
Insurance will be another potential stumbling block, as many states – including California – base insurance rates on the driver’s record rather than the vehicle. Different policies will have to be developed, particularly when the technology becomes completely autonomous with no back-up driver required.