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Autonomous Vehicle Deaths May Require Expert Witness Testimony

Autonomous vehicles are relatively new inventions, and the law has not quite caught up with them. Autonomous vehicles may be self-driving without a driver behind the wheel. Others do have a driver for emergency purposes. Some rideshare apps have begun using these vehicles, and legal experts have opined as to who will bear the liability of such accidents.

There has been at least one reported incident of a pedestrian death linked to this type of vehicle. Expert witnesses may be an invaluable resource in these types of cases.

Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles

As odd as self-driving cars may seem, they do offer many potential benefits, including a more efficient and flexible transportation network, improved safety, access to a vehicle for those who do not drive and the reduction of fatalities or injuries due to human error.

Level 5 Automation

Different vehicle manufacturers have added varying degrees of automation. For example, some vehicles only provide automation so that a vehicle suddenly stops in case of an unseen danger, to park or to keep a vehicle within its own lane if it starts to drift. However, Level 5 vehicles are those that provide complete automation. They do not require typical
driving components such as steering wheels, pedals or driver controls. These vehicles are expected to be able to drive without a driver.

Potential Problems

Although these technological advances are exciting, there may be some problems during the transition from operating a vehicle completely and full automation. Some people think that a capable driver should always be behind the wheel so that he or she can take over in case of an emergency. Others argue that it would be difficult for a driver to transition from autonomous driving to an emergency override. Varying jurisdictions have different laws regarding autonomous vehicles, with some requiring companies to acquire special permits for these uses. If more autonomous vehicles crash, locales may not feel safe about letting them become part of regular traffic. There may be design vulnerabilities. Software may not be properly executed or tested.

Regulatory requirements may not be sufficient. Additionally, cybersecurity problems may be an issue, with a vehicle potentially being able to be hacked and controlled by a third party.

Determining the Cause of Accidents

One reason why these types of accidents may require an expert witness during any resulting litigation is to help explain why the accident occurred. Expert witnesses may be able to review the vehicle’s equipment. Many autonomous vehicles may have cameras installed, and this footage can be reviewed. There may also be electronic data that shows the vehicle’s route, rate of speed and brake timing. An expert witness can also review other factors, such as the actions of other motorists, environmental factors and how the vehicle interacted with this stimulus.

Determining Liability

An expert witness may also be needed to determine liability in these types of accidents. An expert witness may check if the autonomous vehicle complied with all federal and state safety standards, such as being able to stop if the automated system failed, if it can follow all local, state and federal laws and whether it was properly insured in its home state.

Determining liability is a difficult process since multiple parties may be involved. If the system failed, an expert witness can examine whether the vehicle was defective in some way, which can result in liability against the manufacturer. If the driver overrode automation, the expert witness can determine if the driver was responsible for the accident. An expert witness can also explain if the victim contributed to the accident or if a third-party may have been partially at fault.

Types of Expert Witness Testimony

There may be a variety of testimony relevant to automated vehicles. An expert in image processing may be needed to distinguish objects around the vehicle. A neural network expert witness may be necessary to explain how vehicles operate in comparison to the learning process for humans. Radar experts may help explain the role of radar signals and whether they operated properly. Software experts can explain problems that may have occurred that resulted in an accident. Cybersecurity expert witnesses can examine whether the autonomous vehicle was vulnerable to attack and if a hack may have impacted the vehicle. A networking and connectivity expert can explain onboard and wireless vehicle networks, their infrastructure and whether proper methods were implemented to assist messages from being sent from the server to the vehicle.

Contact an Expert Witness

If you would like testimony from an expert witness on autonomous vehicles, contact an expert witness.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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