Who’s Driving Behind the Wheel? Liability and Insurance Implications for Driverless Cars

by Jeffrey J. Downey, attorney

“With over 90% of all vehicle accidents resulting from on human error, the use of driverless cars could radically change the landscape for liability insurance coverage,” explains McLean personal injury attorney Jeffrey J. Downey. The idea of automated vehicles on America’s roads has raised concerns among Americans and legislators alike, all figuring out how to protect Americans when this new technology is implemented throughout the U.S. on America’s streets and highways.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has been tracking consumer trust regarding automated vehicles, and the support has recently dropped.  In its polling of members conducted over several years, nearly three out of four drivers are too afraid to ride in a fully self-driven vehicle, and six in ten Americans would feel less safe on the road with a self-driving vehicle while just walking or riding a bicycle alongside.The AAA study also reported that of the overall population of drivers on the road, millennial support for self-driving vehicles has dropped to just under 50 percent, a difference of 15 percent since 2017, the largest drop of any generation surveyed.  Yet technology companies such as Uber and Google continue their road tests with vehicles or all sizes. It is not a question of if automated vehicles will become a bigger portion of the vehicle traffic on the road; it is a question of when.

Advancements in driverless technology promise to eliminate human inputs altogether. With no steering wheel or a gas pedal, a computer would control the engine and steering based on inputs from onboard sensors.

While the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA periodically update their guidelines for autonomous vehicles, individual states are starting to pass relevant  laws. Legislation has been enacted in the District of Columbia and Virginia that allows for video displays to be installed in vehicles to be driven autonomously, and DC is to make publicly available by July 1st, 2019 a study regarding the effects of autonomous vehicles and their effect on a variety of issues including the District’s loss or gain in tax revenue and parking fees.  Maryland officials have not enacted legislation on autonomous vehicles.

In 2016 alone some 40,000 deaths were attributed to automobile accidents.  If driverless cars reduce the risk of accidents globally, we should see a significant decrease in insurance premiums.  “When drivers no longer become responsible for the operation of their vehicles, insurance companies will have to reevaluate their underwriting practices,” explains Downey.   “It would be unfair to charge individuals increased rates for their bad driving records, when they are no longer operating the motor vehicle. In fact, drivers with new tech cars that have features like auto breaking, should already be evaluated for decreased premiums,” explains Downey.

 “I would not trust insurance companies to do this on their own,” explains Downey.   “Legislation needs to be passed to force insurance companies to lower premiums based on the lower risk profile.”

 “As a personal injury lawyer, I am frequently dealing with traffic accident victims,” explains Tyson’s Corner personal injury attorney Jeffrey J. Downey.  Mr. Downey represents Plaintiffs injured in car accidents in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. “Once driverless cars are commonplace, they will have a real impact on insurance coverage and driver liability.  But pursuing liability for accidents may require consideration of product liability claims, which could make the pursuit of personal injury claims far more complicated. As various state legislatures struggle to address this new technology, they should give consideration to insurance rates and liability,” explains Downey.

If you or a member of your family has been injured in an accident, call the Law Office of Jeffrey J. Downey for a free consultation.  The office is conveniently located in Tysons Corner/Mclean.  Mr. Downey represents car accident victims in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Jeffrey J. Downey, attorney
The Law Office of Jeffrey J. Downey
8270 Greensboro Drive, Suite 810
McLean, VA  22102
Representing victims of personal injury, elder neglect, abuse and exploitation
Serving clients in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia
On the web at Jeffdowney.com;  
Phone 703-564-7318, 703-564-7336

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