Who is liable when an autonomous vehicle is involved in a car crash?
It’s a question yet to be answered, and one the Governors Highway Safety Association broached in a recently released white paper the association will present at its annual meeting Aug. 26 in Anaheim, Calif.
“Finding fault and liability can be tricky when no driver is involved,” said Russ Martin, director of Policy and Government Relations for the Governors Highway Safety Association in Washington, D.C.
Martin added, “It’s its own legalistic can of worms. It’s definitely a hot topic in the insurance industry.”
With four companies and Carnegie Mellon University testing driverless vehicles in Allegheny County, autonomous driving is an issue likely to impact drivers in the region before the wider driving public that does not live areas where the technology is being tested.
Because the average age of vehicles on the road in 2018 was 12 years, industry experts now say that there is likely to be a mix of automobiles on the road from those with no autonomous features to driverless. It’s this mix that ensures traffic safety will be a continued challenge.
“The experts agree autonomous vehicles have tended to promise to reduce crashes and prevent injuries,” Martin said. “It may not be a silver bullet for highway safety.”
The white paper summarizes an interdisciplinary panel meeting the past spring.
Among the recommendations:
• Develop safety messages to educate the public about the range of automation, which includes driver assistance features such as lane-departure warnings to full self-driving vehicles.
• Continue the national focus on traffic safety challenges: impaired and distracted driving, speeding and sharing the road with pedestrians and bicyclists.
• Develop uniform policies and training for police and first responders about responding to and investigating crashes involving autonomous vehicles.
“While AVs will change our lives in many ways, they raise important highway safety issues,” said Ryan Gammelgard, State Farm counsel. “This report is a key piece to helping make sure we all work together to ensure the technology works as advertised.”
Ryan Tarkowski, Pennsylvania State Police spokesman, agreed, saying the liability issue is on the agency’s radar.
“Yes, this is an issue that the Pennsylvania State Police is aware of and is actively working to address,” Tarkowski said. “As the technology surrounding highly automated vehicles evolves, the department continues to work with our law enforcement partners, lawmakers, PennDOT, vehicle manufacturers and other stakeholders to address associated legal and safety issues.”
Officials with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police did not respond to requests for comment, and Chief Deputy Kevin Kraus with the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment.
Representatives for Uber Advance Technology Group and Aurora did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Governors Highway Safety Association is a nonprofit organization that represents state highway safety offices and provides leadership for improving traffic safety and influencing national policy.