Automobile accidents are caused overwhelmingly by human error: people are distracted; they drive too fast; they tailgate. Even accidents involving prototype self-driving cars typically entail some human error. Ultimately, the development and implementation of self-driving cars is expected to significantly improve road safety. Autonomous vehicles may save lives, but legal frameworks will need to evolve to effectively foster adoption while compensating accident victims.
At this stage in the development of autonomous vehicles, manufacturers face significant litigation risk when vehicles are involved in accidents. Companies rationally want to avoid precedent-setting decisions based on nascent technology. Reputational harm is also a concern. And litigation concerning self-driving automobile technology could include discovery regarding the various sensors and algorithms that help pilot the vehicles, which could potentially expose valuable trade secrets. Concerns of this type may lead manufacturers of autonomous vehicles, in the short run, to avoid litigation when accidents occur.
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