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According to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), evidence suggests that a self-driving car’s accident risk is less than that of a car driven by a human.

The study found that cars driven by people were involved in 4.2 severe crashes for every million miles driven while auto-driven cars were only involved in 3.2 severe crashes in the same distance. This was determined to be a “statistically significant” difference in the number of crashes.

How VTTI Conducted the Study

While on its face, the question of whether a self-driven or human car is more likely to be involved in crashes may seem simple, many nuances make it far more complicated. In the VTTI study, the factors that most affected the study were:

  • Defining what constitutes a crash since different states have different standards and definitions for what a driver must report
  • Rates of reported crashes: These rates may only be a fraction of actual crashes, resulting in an uncertain and artificial actual rate of crashes.
  • What states require self-driving car accident reporting, e.g. California. This is an issue because researchers have a full record of car accidents involving autonomous cars and an incomplete record of accidents involving human-driven cars, which could lead to inaccurate findings. The report stated that it was akin to comparing apples and oranges.

To try to manage this disparity, the VTTI researchers attempted to improve the natural crash data by investigating crashes reported to police, crash rates for varied roadway types, and added to that possible scenarios in which drivers would not report crashes. Researchers considered factors such as the magnitude of damage, likelihood that distraction or impairment might have played a role, property damage amounts, and likelihood of bodily injuries or fatalities.

The researchers caution that even though the report found that self-driving cars were involved in fewer accidents, they cannot decisively make that claim without more data.

Who is liable if a self-driving car causes a crash?

One interesting question arising out of this movement towards self-driving cars is that of legal liability or responsibility in the event that a self-driving car causes a crash.

To date, most of the accidents involving self-driving cars have been due to human error (e.g. a driver rear-ends the self-driving car). It seems that human drivers fail to follow the rules as closely as their self-driven compatriots do. But, what if there is a crash that the self-driven mechanism causes?

There is little doubt that liability for a crash caused by a failure of the self-driving mechanism should rest on the manufacturer’s shoulders provided the system was doing what it was supposed to do without interference from the driver. Like any product that causes harm this could constitute a defective design or defective manufacturing problem, rather than being an issue of negligence on the part of a human driver. However, these cases could be more complicated than they first seem.

If you or someone you love suffered injuries in an accident with a self-driven or human-driven car, talk to a car accident lawyer at the Law Office of Julie Johnson, PLLC. Contact us today at 214-290-8001.