SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA, March 25, 2021 / PRNewswire / – A 18th March 2018, the first known automobile accident death by a self-driving car occurred in Tempe, Arizona where a Volvo XC90 SUV hit Elaine Herzberg when crossing the street with her bike. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Elaine_Herzberg. As the managing partner of Penney and Associates, Injury Lawyers, I spent years pondering the aftermath of this accident. How is criminal and civil liability for self-driving vehicles assessed? https://www.penneylawyers.com/. Before anyone begins to believe that the self-driving car was the cause of this tragic accident, it should be noted that unfortunately all parties involved in this accident have settled their cases out of court with a confidentiality agreement. However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the accident and checked all video cameras and data recorders on Uber Volvo XC90 Sport Utility Vehicles. Some general facts have been suggested. The person in the test vehicle was looking down at the time of the impact. The vehicle was traveling 43 mph when Herzberg was first spotted by the self-driving Uber vehicle. The vehicle was 6 seconds away from impact and did not conclude that emergency braking was required. This is where the legal liability argument begins, but this article will not focus on that accident, but rather on future self-driving vehicle accidents. The question is when will a person lose their life in an accident with a self-driving vehicle. Who will be held criminally and civilly liable?
Let’s hypothetically assume that a person is killed by an automated vehicle. If someone was killed in the accident, do the Investigative Police, with no determination of fault, investigate both civil and criminal charges? If so, who will be held criminally liable if it is found that the person killed was not the cause of the accident? Is it the automobile manufacturer, the vehicle or the person sitting in the vehicle that enables the vehicle to perform all of the driving functions of a person who is held liable under civil and criminal law?
The first thing to note is that people are still suspicious of self-driving vehicles. In one March 14, 2019 Article reported by the American Automobile Association (AAA) on its latest survey on self-driving vehicles. The insurance giant found that 71 percent of people were afraid of sitting in a fully automated vehicle. The AAA survey also found that 53 percent of people were satisfied with automating short-haul, low-speed vehicles such as railways or passenger conveyors in theme parks and airports. https://newsroom.aaa.com/2019/03/americans-fear-self-driving-cars-survey/. Fast forward about a year and a new AAA report on the most recent survey on February 25, 2021showed that people are becoming increasingly suspicious of self-driving vehicles. This survey found that only 14 percent of the drivers surveyed would trust driving in a self-driving vehicle. https://newsroom.aaa.com/2021/02/aaa-todays-vehicle-technology-must-walk-so-self-driving-cars-can-run/.
Though people are suspicious of self-driving vehicles, the Tesla models, which are fully integrated to be programmed and set up for future expansion into full automation, are selling at record pace. Tesla sold 499,550 cars worldwide for 2020, up from 367,500 in 2019. https://ir.tesla.com/press-release/tesla-q4-2020-vehicle-production-deliveries. From March 2021 Tesla notes on its website that computer, sensor, and camera technology continues to grow, so a fully automated vehicle will soon be on the road anytime. They find that the Tesla now has Autopilot, Autopilot Navigation, Autosteer, Smart Summon, and full self-driving capabilities. In fact, someone can call their Tesla back to themselves on the phone from the parking lot in the parking garage. https://www.tesla.com/autopilot.
Given the advances in technology and the number of accidents involving the few fully automated vehicles on the road, how will this affect the civil and criminal justice system when it comes to an accident caused in some way, or in any way, by an automated vehicle? I asked someone who understands the current criminal system. Attorney Todd Kuhnen is co-host of the nationally syndicated program Radio Law Talk https://radiolawtalk.com/radio-law-talk-voices/ and a former prosecutor in two states. Mr. Kuhnen now has his own California criminal law practice. http://www.atklegal.com/.
Frederick Penney: Todd, you followed the advancement of the self-driving vehicle on your Radio Law Talk show. How, from a defense attorney’s point of view, will the self-driving vehicles affect the prosecution, who will bring criminal charges for serious or fatal injuries?
Todd Kuhnen: It depends on what level of automation the car is. There are currently around five different levels of automation. From level one, which ensures that a car stays in the lane, to level five, where the car is fully automatic. In stage three, the vehicle does most of the driving, but requires human assistance. For the first three levels Anyone who is in the “driver’s seat” can still be prosecuted. For example, in 2018, a level three self-driving Uber vehicle hit a person who caused their death. In this case it is Tempe Police department mentioned that the bug may not be Uber or the Uber operator.
Frederick Penney: Todd, the government doesn’t appear to have seen enough evidence to pursue a criminal conviction against the operator of the Uber vehicle that was in the vehicle. Why is that important?
Todd Kuhnen: No, but the fact is that the prosecution has at least investigated the possibility. The prosecution will investigate every death following a self-driving vehicle accident.
Frederick Penney: In what Can the driver of a self-driving vehicle be held criminally liable for an accident outside the third tier?
Todd Kuhnen: It is not currently known, but if the investigation into the crash shows that an attentive operator could have avoided this accident, he may have some liability to the operator. The less control the operator has over the vehicle, the less likely they will be prosecuted for criminal misconduct if someone is killed in an accident.
Frederick Penney: How do you think the police will deal with DUI accidents or DUI in fully or partially automated vehicles?
Todd Kuhnen: The jury disagreed on this issue, but my first thought is that this is an issue that needs to be addressed in lawmakers as current law in most states doesn’t include laws in the books on dui and self-drive cars . However, if a person is drunk and operates a fully automated vehicle and that person is able to take control of the vehicle, they may be prosecuted for a DUI. However, everyone needs to remember that this goes through the jungle and to my knowledge there are no laws that address this particular problem. I think some laws will be passed soon to address this issue.
Frederick Penney: Do you think automated vehicles will eventually reduce the number of duis on the road?
Todd Kuhnen: Well, when you get into a fully automated car, as far as I know, the operator still has to perform a few tasks such as B. enter the coordinates or instructions so that the vehicle arrives safely at its destination. However, it will likely reduce DUI accidents once the technology is so improved and perfected that the vehicle will require little or no human intervention. Again, it’s all speculation at this point.
Frederick Penney: Can a company or manufacturer currently be held criminally liable?
Todd Kuhnen: Yes, there are cases where companies have been criminally liable and fined for dangerous conditions if it is shown that the company or its management knew of likely dangers to the community. It recently happened to a California gas company that had an explosion in one of its pipelines. So it’s an option when it comes to automated vehicles, but it would be very difficult to keep an auto company up to a standard of criminal liability without evidence of knowledge and intent. These are all still unknown waters, and one can only speculate what the future will look like in terms of DUIs and in-vehicle tracking.
Frederick Penney: What do you see about the future of criminal law in relation to self-automated vehicles?
Todd Kuhnen: As is so often the case, the protection of the law usually comes after the novelty of the new technology wears out and after a tragedy has already occurred. Are self-automated cars the future? I would say yes, but how criminal and civil law will affect the manufacturing process, the people or people in the vehicle have yet to be determined.
As more automated vehicles and semi-automated vehicles by manufacturers come online, the law needs to be changed or modified to answer fundamental questions about civil and criminal liability.
SOURCE Penney and coworkers