What if I am hit by someone that is using autopilot to drive?

Vehicle technology is constantly evolving. The self-driving industry is booming, with researchers and auto manufacturers looking for ways to make autonomous vehicles part of everyday life. Many see benefits to features like autopilot and other degrees of automation, including reduced accidents and environmental improvements. However, the technology is not quite at that point just yet.

person driving in their car with auto pilot

While safety measures have improved, there are risks associated with different levels of autonomous technology. Drivers are expected to pay attention and be prepared to intervene, yet carelessness and misconceptions about the technology’s capabilities can combine to create a deadly formula.

If you have been involved in an accident with a driver using autopilot, it can be challenging to work with an insurance company to file a claim and to seek to hold all at-fault parties accountable. A Florida car accident lawyer from Hoskins, Turco, Lloyd & Lloyd can explain your options for filing an injury claim against all potentially liable parties. A successful claim has the potential to result in compensation for all of your accident-related losses.

What Is Autopilot?

“Autopilot” is a trademarked technology offered by the vehicle manufacturer Tesla. Despite what the name implies, Autopilot is more like an advanced form of cruise control that can not only change speeds but even steer, maintain lanes, change lanes, and even brake. It can even suggest lane changes and drive vehicles toward exits and interchanges, depending on a person’s chosen destination and traffic patterns.

Tesla Motors, Inc. also offers a more advanced form of the technology that they dub “Full Self-Driving” or FSD. This system offers even more capabilities over autopilot, but drivers are still advised to remain attentive and prepared to reassume control of the vehicle.

Other manufacturers, including Ford and GM, have begun offering similar semi-autonomous driving capabilities on their newer vehicles.

Systems like Autopilot rely on sensors, cameras, and different digital monitors to process the environment and keep vehicles in the appropriate lane. The most commonly used sensors include:

  • Ultrasonic sensors — Used to help drivers park and detect nearby obstacles
  • Radar sensors — Used to see the positions of nearby vehicles
  • Image sensors — Used to interpret objects and hazards on roadways
  • Lidar sensors — Used to measure distances, detect lane markings, and identify road edges

No matter the configuration, if the vehicle senses there is a potential risk, control can be immediately returned to the driver to take necessary action. The driver also has the ability to resume complete control at any time.

It is important to note once more that in any configuration, features like Autopilot are not considered fully autonomous because the driver must remain an active participant. Drivers who assume they can be passive occupants while using autopilot are more likely to cause an accident.

Autopilot Features and Driver Responsibility

Determining who is at fault for an accident when the Autopilot feature was used can be challenging. The opposing driver could claim the system malfunctioned, which is why they lost control of their vehicle. They could also claim that they were misinformed, despite repeated warnings, as to exactly how the feature works and what responsibilities they hold while using it.

The self-driving features that are currently available to drivers allow them to reclaim control of their vehicle at any time. So, assuming the system functioned properly, the driver may be held accountable for an accident due to their own negligence in many possible scenarios.

In addition to user error, common causes of Autopilot accidents include computer malfunction and manufacturer defects. Most self-driving cars are made up of dozens of computers and complex software. Technical glitches can cause a vehicle to miss dangerous road conditions. For example, many Teslas using Autopilot have been involved in accidents with emergency vehicles despite technologies that are supposed to detect these vehicles and brake before approaching them. There are also challenges associated with inclement weather conditions.

Proving manufacturer defects can be difficult, but it is possible through a product liability lawsuit.

Laws can also complicate how driver actions are determined to have contributed to the accident. While many states have passed legislation that allows research, funding, and even deployment. Florida is one of only a handful of states that have passed laws authorizing self-driving cars on its roads. Additionally, Florida has enacted a law that limits the liability of auto manufacturers in the event a self-maneuvering vehicle has aftermarket parts that could affect the performance of its systems. You can work with a self-driving car accident attorney familiar with applicable state laws and recent case outcomes to mitigate these challenges and seek all damages from the appropriate parties.

What to Do After an Accident With a Self-Driving Vehicle

If you are involved in an accident of any sort, there are steps you need to take to protect yourself and a potential claim, including the following:

  1. Move to a safe location.
  2. Contact emergency responders, including medical professionals and the police.
  3. Collect contact information from the other driver, including their name, address, phone number, and insurance information.
  4. Avoid admitting fault — even a single “I’m sorry” could jeopardize the future of an accident claim.
  5. Document all relevant details with your phone’s camera and/or a pen and paper, including evidence that the driver was using self-driving functions at the time of the crash.
  6. Contact a car accident lawyer to learn about maximizing your compensation.

The sooner you get in touch with an attorney after a crash, the more time they will have to investigate your accident, determine fault, and help you value your losses. If responsibility is established, you could be entitled to compensation to manage your accident-related expenses, including medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering, etc.

The Future of Autonomous Vehicles and Accident Liability

Currently, there are six levels of automation. As autopilot requires a level of driver activity, it is only a significant function of three of the six levels: driver assistance, partial automation, and conditional automation. The six levels work as follows:

  • No automation — With no automation, the driver performs all tasks independently.
  • Driver Assistance — Driver assistance is the first level that involves autopilot. The vehicle may have features that help with steering, braking, or accelerating; however, the assistive systems frequently do not engage all at once.
  • Partial automation — Autopilot also features partial automation. While the driver needs to remain engaged, the vehicle can accelerate, steer, and brake on its own.
  • Conditional automation — With conditional automation, a driver does not always need to be engaged; however, they should be prepared to take control if necessary.
  • High automation — With high automation, vehicles perform all standard driving functions. Depending on the level of automation, the driver may not have access to vehicle functions.
  • Full automation — Full automation allows a vehicle to perform all driving functions. Neither the driver nor passengers are needed to provide any degree of focus to the road. Some fully autonomous cars do not have steering wheels or dashboards.

Currently, only the first three levels of automation are legal for consumer purchase. However, as the technology improves, it is expected that the remaining three levels will become legal and widespread.

Injured in a Crash? Get Help From a Florida Car Accident Lawyer

Proving liability after an autopilot accident is crucial for the victim. If you find yourself in an accident and do not know where to turn, we can help.

We understand there are unique challenges associated with pursuing a claim against an autonomous vehicle and its driver. Hoskins, Turco, Lloyd & Lloyd is prepared to defend your rights and seek repayment of all damages from all potentially at-fault parties. Call 866-460-1990 or contact us online today to set up a free, no-obligation consultation with a Florida personal injury lawyer to learn more about your rights and what you can do next to start your case.

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