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How Will Self-Driving Cars Affect Personal Injury Law?

Posted on July 24, 2023

Self-driving cars have long been a topic of fascination and speculation, and their widespread adoption is becoming increasingly likely. As this technology advances, it raises important questions about how they will undoubtedly affect personal injury cases and the legal landscape surrounding them.

Shifting Liability

One of the most significant changes that self-driving cars bring is the question of liability. In traditional car accidents, determining fault is often crucial for personal injury cases. However, with self-driving cars, the responsibility for an accident could potentially shift from the driver to the car’s manufacturer or the technology behind it. This change may lead to complex legal battles where the blame is assigned to various parties involved in the autonomous vehicle’s design, manufacturing, or maintenance.

Redefining Negligence

With self-driving cars, the concept of negligence may evolve. In traditional accidents, human error often plays a significant role. However, in fully autonomous cars, the responsibility for operating the vehicle belongs to the technology itself rather than the human driver. Therefore, determining what constitutes negligence in the context of self-driving cars and establishing standards for their safe operation will be essential. This may require updates to existing laws and regulations to reflect the unique circumstances and challenges presented by autonomous vehicles.

Product Liability

Product liability law will likely play a more significant role in car accident cases. Manufacturers and technology companies will be held accountable for any defects or malfunctions that lead to accidents or injuries, according to our expert product liability attorneys in Philadelphia. Proving product liability may involve assessing the software, sensors, and autonomous system’s other technological components. This could require expert witnesses and specialized knowledge to navigate the legal complexities surrounding emerging autonomous technologies.

Data Collection and Privacy

Self-driving cars generate vast amounts of data through sensors, cameras, and onboard computers. This data could become crucial in determining fault and liability in accident cases. However, striking a balance between utilizing this data for legal purposes and respecting individuals’ privacy rights will be an ongoing challenge.

Legal Precedents and Case Law

As self-driving cars continue to evolve and enter the mainstream, courts will be faced with novel legal questions and scenarios. Legal precedents will need to be established, which will shape the future legal landscape and provide guidance for similar cases. 

Are Self-Driving Cars Legal in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania passed legislation at the end of 2022 that allows self-driving cars and trucks on the road starting in July 2023, as long as certain conditions are met. Driverless vehicle developers — following regulations created by PennDOT — can deploy driverless passenger vehicles, as well as “platoons,” where a driverless car or truck follows close behind another car or truck driven by a person. 

As far as buying a self-driving car, there are no commercially available fully self-driving cars on the market today. However, many vehicles offer advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that take much of the burden off of the driver. The software is designed to alert the driver when it is necessary for them to take over, making them ultimately liable if an accident were to occur unless there was a technological failure. 

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