Automobile Accidents Without a Driver?: The Insurance Liability of Highly Automated Vehicles

By: Ashley Mitchell

I. Introduction

In March 2018, an Uber fatally struck Elaine Herzberg.[1]  This accident was extraordinary because the driver was not operating the vehicle at the time of the crash; it was in autonomous mode.[2]  This tragedy raises many questions about the future of cars without drivers.  For now, Uber has removed self-driving vehicles from the roads.[3]  But as we look to the future of cars without a driver, we must ask: what is the insurance liability when a crash occurs?

Every 5 seconds there is an automobile accident and ninety-four percent are caused by human error.[4]  Auto accidents can cause property damage that is costly to repair, and bodily injury, which generates medical bills.[5]  Auto insurance covers the cost of property damage and bodily injury and is mandated in forty-nine states.[6]  Highly automated vehicles (HAV) are designed to eliminate drivers and rely on an automation system, subsequently reducing human errors and the number of auto accidents.[7]  Yet, it is unclear if insurance will cover the cost of damages or if the manufacturer will be held liable when a highly automated vehicle is involved in an accident.  Legal liability is one of the biggest obstacles to widespread utilization of HAV technology.[8]
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