Who’s Responsible for Car Accidents Involving Self-Driving Cars? Investigators Explain

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Car technology continues to move closer to self-driving cars. And with each advancement, the promise of a future free from car accidents seems possible. But what happens when such systems fail? What if a self-driving car causes an accident? Who’s legally responsible for financially compensating accident victims for their damages and injuries?

Such questions came to the forefront recently in response to an investigation of fatal car accident involving a self-driving car. On May 7, an Ohio driver was killed in Florida when his Tesla Model S crashed while being operated using the car’s autopilot system. The car drove in front of a tractor-trailer, which crashed into the car, killing the car’s driver, according to The New York Times.

Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) closed its investigation of last year’s deadly car accident. Investigators ruled the accident was not caused by a defect and that the vehicles did not need to be recalled, according to The Los Angeles Times. Specifically, the NHTSA ruled that the vehicle’s autonomous driving system worked as designed and that the company should not be held responsible for the accident.

However, investigators insisted that vehicle manufacturers need to do a better job explaining to consumers how self-driving cars work so drivers fully understand their responsibilities. Others agreed. “Carmakers have to be clear on what the driver’s responsibility is,” Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at Autotrader.com, said in an interview with The New York Times. “No car buyer should think there are fully automated vehicles on the market.”

Can car companies be held responsible for self-driving auto accidents?

The NHTSA’s finding seems to let auto makers off the hook for accidents involving self-driving cars. But like other car crashes, not all motor vehicle accidents involving self-driving vehicles are the same. As a result, car companies could potentially be held responsible for future self-driving car accidents, especially if the accidents involve defective product liability claims.

“Not all systems can do all things,” NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas said in a recent interview with The New York Times. “There are driving scenarios that automatic emergency braking systems are not designed to address.”

Specifically, Tesla’s self-driving software has been effective at preventing rear-end car accidents, Thomas said. However, situations involving crossing traffic “are beyond the performance capabilities of the system,” Thomas said.

In addition, in the case of last year’s fatal Tesla car accident, investigators determined that the driver “was not paying attention to the road,” The New York Times reported. Tesla has said the accident occurred because the vehicle’s camera “failed to recognize the white truck against a bright sky,” according to The New York Times.

As a result, even though the car’s self-driving system was not found to have been at fault for this accident, the investigation leaves the door open to the possibility of future legal cases involving self-driving car accidents. This means that autopilot systems – and thus their manufacturers – could potentially be held liable for future self-driving car accidents.

What are possible product liability cases involving self-driving cars?

There are many possible scenarios in which a car company could be held responsible for an accident caused by a self-driving car. Such scenarios include:

  • Mechanical defects
  • Computer errors
  • Failing to take hazardous weather conditions into account
  • Failing to educate drivers about how to properly use self-driving car
  • Falsely inflating safety features of self-driving cars
  • Car manufacturers not including features requiring drivers to keep hands on wheel

These are just some of the ways accidents involving self-driving cars could occur. Car accidents can happen any time for a wide range of reasons. And in each case, the person or company responsible for such accidents should be held accountable for their actions. Otherwise, similar accidents could occur in the future. And as our Oregon auto accident attorneys can tell you, no one ever wants to be in a serious motor vehicle accident.

Inaccurate GPS Devices and Portland Accident Risks

Many motorists rely on GPS devices to tell them how to get where they’re going, but the mapping programs sometimes contain inaccurate or incomplete information. If a GPS device directs a motorist to a dangerous area because mistakes were made in the mapping software, they could get hurt or could hurt others. In such a situation, victims may wonder exactly who is to blame for what happened.

Google Maps Navigation on a Samsung S6 smartphoneRisks of Accidents From Inaccurate GPS Devices

GPS devices can help contribute to motor vehicle accidents in many different ways.

Pedestrians getting walking directions from a GPS device could be directed to a high-risk area, like a highway. Motorists who are getting driving directions could be told to take roads that are one-way in the opposing direction, or could be told to drive on a road that abruptly ends or goes into water. Motorists could also be directed to areas where there are at-grade railroad tracks. These are particularly dangerous, with New York Times reporting around 200 annual fatalities happening at areas where there are railroad tracks on the same level as the ground.

If a GPS device directs a motorist to a place that is not safe and an accident happens, injury victims may want to blame the GPS maker for this series of events. In one case, a pedestrian was led to a highway by the Google Maps app on her Blackberry. She was hit by a car and hurt, and she sued Google Maps. She lost the case, with the court holding in Rosenberg v. Harwood that Google didn’t have an obligation to her. The court also indicated it was reluctant to impose what would amount to virtually unlimited liability on Google.

So, if the GPS maker is not responsible, who is? Generally, the driver. In its report on at-grade railroad tracks, the New York Times told the story of one of the fatal accidents that happened at one of these locations. The accident occurred when a tired driver followed GPS directions to an at-grade railroad crossing and proceeded to get his truck stuck on the railroad. The driver left his truck, where a commuter train approached and struck it. The resulting accident killed the train engineer along with 32 other people. The driver of the truck was charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Regardless of what a GPS device says, a motorist still has an obligation to follow the rules of the road and to pay attention to what is going on around him. This includes looking for hazards that could result in accidents. It is not a defense for a driver who causes an accident to claim he had followed the instructions of GPS software. Drivers remain responsible for their own safe driving behavior and can be held accountable to victims if they cause accidents to happen.

Keeping Safe from Rising Accident Risks Caused by Smartphone Technology

Some in-vehicle technology has substantial benefits and has contributed to saving lives. Unfortunately, other technology has been damaging to safety and has helped to contribute to the biggest year-to-year rise in car accident deaths in 50 years. You need to understand what kinds of in-car technology puts you at risk and you need to make sure you do everything you can to keep your family safe from the dangerous risks of mobile technology behind the wheel. mobile-phone-1243113

According to New York Times, there was a 10.4 percent jump in car accident death rates from the first half of 2015 to the first half of 2016. In January of June of 2016, 17,775 fatalities occurred in auto accidents.

There has not been this substantial of an increase in death rates in decades, and death rates had actually largely been declining until recently. The Times indicates most safety experts believe mobile technology both played a role in bringing the death rate down and played a role in causing the big increase in accidents which occurred between 2015 and 2016.

Technology has helped to bring down accident death rates by making it less likely people will get into accidents, and by making it less likely they will die if they do get into wrecks. Airbags, anti-lock brake systems, blind spot monitoring, forward crash avoidance systems, and a host of other technologies have helped bring the death rate way down since the 1970’s.

Unfortunately, some of these technologies today, and the increased automation in cars, are making motorists more complacent. Drivers tend to rely more on their cars to pay attention for them and help them avoid collisions… rather than staying as focused as they should on the roads. As we move towards driverless cars and more tech features are added, this is likely to continue turning into an even bigger problem.

Of course, there’s also another obvious way that new technologies has contributed to crash risks: it has dramatically increased the dangers of distracted driving. Today, many cars have infotainment systems people can use to do a lot of things hands-free, including talk on the phone and send texts. National Safety Council (NSC) warns that these hands-free systems are NOT risk free!

Just because you may not be holding or looking at your phone does not mean your not distracted. Your brain can’t really multitask or jump between activities efficiently, nor can it prioritize effectively between paying attention to the road and talking to your infotainment system to enter an address in the GPS.   You need to be aware your brain energy is going to be focused on the wrong thing, which could mean missing as much as 50 percent of what is going on around you. This significantly increases the chances of an auto accident happening. If you cause a crash while you are distracted, you could be held accountable for the resulting damages you cause to others. 

What to Do If I Get Into An Accident While Ride Sharing in Portland?

If you get into an accident while ride sharing, you have a potentially complicated legal situation on your hands. As a passenger, you weren’t responsible for causing the accident since you were dependent upon the driver to keep you safe. However, you need to know who exactly is responsible for causing the collision, as you should be able to pursue a case for compensation to recover for any losses. with-a-church-and-buses-3-1506485

What to Do If You Get into a Car Accident While Using a Ride Sharing Service

If you get into a car accident while using a ride sharing service, you should contact an attorney right away. You should talk to a lawyer as soon as practical so you can protect and preserve your rights and begin the injury claims process.

One of the most important things your lawyer will do is help you to determine who was at fault for the ride sharing accident. This could be the driver of the vehicle in which you were riding. Many people who drive for ride sharing services have to work long shifts. Some drivers will even drive for multiple different ride sharing services because this allows them to get in more hours. This can lead to situations where drivers are fatigued and suffer from delayed reactions and impaired judgment.

Since Uber and other ride sharing providers communicate with drivers via their smartphones, there is also a big risk that a ride-sharing driver will be paying attention to their phone and not the road. These and other dangerous behaviors can lead to drivers causing crashes. Your lawyer can help you to obtain police reports from the crash and other evidence which shows who actually was to blame for causing the collision to happen.

If the evidence shows the driver of the ride sharing service was the one responsible, your attorney can help you to decide who to actually pursue your case for compensation against. Most ride sharing services provide insurance. For example, Uber has provided up to a million per accident in liability coverage since 2013. Pursuing a case against the company facilitating ride sharing can make it possible to recover broader compensation.

Your attorney can deal with the insurer for the ride sharing company on your behalf. These insurers handle accident claims all the time, they know the ins-and-outs of settlement negotiations, and they often try to pay less than claims are worth. Your attorney can help to make sure this does not happen with your claim and that you get the compensation you deserve.

If the evidence shows another motorist was responsible for causing the accident, your attorney can also assist you in pursuing a case against that other driver. Whether you are making a claim against Uber, the ride-sharing driver of the vehicle you were in, or another motorist, your lawyer can help you to resolve your case inside or outside of court for the maximum about of compensation possible to cover your losses.

Causes of Halloween Pedestrian Accidents

Halloween pedestrian accidents are very common, with double the number of pedestrians dying in auto accidents on Halloween night as compared with on other days of the year, according to Safe Kids Oregon.  There are many different reasons why there are more pedestrian accidents on Halloween. Motorists need to understand the kinds of dangerous behaviors which cause pedestrian and car crashes, as well as the conditions which lead to an increase in Halloween pedestrian fatalities. neighborhood-kids-1384870

One common cause of Halloween pedestrian accidents is an increase in alcohol use before driving on Halloween night. According to Mix, 44 percent of the deadly accidents on Halloween involve a driver who has a BAC above the limit, and 23 percent of pedestrian deaths on Halloween occur in accidents with a driver who is intoxicated.

Just last year, Oregon Live reported on one such DUI accident which led to a tragic fatality. The incident occurred in North Portland. A driver who had consumed approximately three to four beers at a party got into a fight with his girlfriend and left the celebration. He saw a pedestrian who was halfway across the road as he was driving on North Lombard Street, and he tried to swerve to the right to avoid hitting the pedestrian but was not able to do so.

He ended up striking the pedestrian, who slammed into the vehicle by the driver’s side window. The driver tried to help the pedestrian, who had been spending time with friends and celebrating his 27th birthday which fell on Halloween. The pedestrian decided to leave and walk to the store but was struck by the car when he was on his way. Unfortunately, the driver could not help the pedestrian, and the pedestrian died of his injuries.  Friends did not discover what happened until the next day, as they thought he had simply run into other people on his way to the store and not returned.

Approximately two hours after the collision, the driver’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) was measured at .03, so police believe it was likely over the limit at the time of the incident. The driver also submitted an affidavit in which he rated himself a four on a scale of one to 10 when asked how comfortable he felt driving.  Police believe he was going around 40 to 50 miles an hour on the road when he hit the pedestrian.

Accidents like this one are far too common when people go to Halloween parties and then leave those parties too intoxicated to drive home safely. Drunken drivers, however, aren’t the only reason for elevated accident risks on Halloween. There are also more accidents simply because there are more cars on the road and more pedestrians out. Particularly after dark, there are many more children outside walking around then usual. If drivers aren’t prepared to watch for these kids, serious and sometimes fatal pedestrian accidents are the likely outcome.

Speeding Causes Deadly Portland Car Accidents

When drivers are traveling at higher speeds, there is a greater chance of accidents happening and there is an increased likelihood an auto accident will be a fatal one. A recent Portland car accident illustrates the tragic consequences which can occur as a result of drivers going too fast. speedometer-1449844

KATU reported on a high-speed accident which resulted in the death of a teen pedestrian. The accident happened when the teenager was crossing Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard at approximately 4:00 PM. She was hit by a gold Lexus, which was driven by a 20-year-old motorist.

The Lexus reportedly approach 43rd avenue and was in the center lane, rapidly going past other vehicles. The driver of the Lexus apparently came close to hitting other cars, according to witnesses who saw the accident happen. The driver was traveling approximately 60 miles per hour when he struck the teenager who was crossing the street.

Although the teenager was killed by the auto accident, the driver of the Lexus did not stop right away. He continued to travel west on Hawthorne at a high speed. He did, however, eventually return to the scene of the collision.

A witness at the crash scene administered CPR to the teenager who was hit by the vehicle. The witness told KATU the victim was only 15-years-old. She had left a coffee shop and was reportedly trying to get to the north end of Hawthorne. Her mother was with her, and was reportedly standing just a few feet away from her at the time when she was killed. The driver who hit her was driving on a suspended license, and he was arrested at the scene of the collision for reckless driving, hit and run, and manslaughter.

Unfortunately, this crash is one of many which occurs because of drivers who choose to recklessly speed. When a driver goes too fast, he significantly increases the chance of getting into an accident and he also increases the likely severity of the accident.

Automotive Fleet has reported on the risks associated with excessive speed. While the average driver has about a five percent chance of becoming involved in a car accident, each percent increase in speed results in a two percent increase in the driver getting into a crash.  Drivers who speed may lose control of cars and have a longer stopping distance, which helps to explain the added crash risks.

When accidents happen at faster speeds, the crash forces multiply, increasing the risk for serious injuries and fatalities. A one percent increase in speed transfers to a three percent increase in serious injuries occurring if the speeding car crashes and translates into a four percent increase in the chances the accident will be fatal.

Drivers should be aware of the tremendous risks and should make it a point to travel at or below speed limits so they are always traveling at a speed which is safe for the current conditions of the road.

Negotiating with a Portland Insurance Company

Victims of an auto accident should be able to make a claim to receive compensation from an auto insurer.  In Portland, drivers have to buy bodily injury liability coverage, property damage liability coverage, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, and personal injury protection (PIP).  The broad minimum coverage requirements mean almost everyone should be able to recover compensation if they get hurt in a collision. Oregon Mutual, Grange, Amica, and Allied are among the insurance companies who make automobile insurance policies available to Oregon consumers and who will provide compensation to victims who get hurt in Oregon auto accidents. burning-ambulance-1398173

After you’ve been hurt, you need an experienced accident lawyer that knows how to effectively negotiate with a Portland insurance company to get the money you are entitled to following an accident.  Some of the challenges that occur during negotiation include:

  • Insurers aren’t on your side. Insurance companies want to pay as little to you as possible, in most cases. They’ll be looking for ways to deny your claim, trip you up and get you to change your story, or get you to accept less in compensation than you deserve. You need to be prepared to protect your rights, which usually means having a lawyer help you.
  • Different insurers cover different losses. If you suffered injury, regardless of who was at fault, but your injuries weren’t very costly or serious, you’ll make a personal injury protection claim with your insurance company. If you got hurt because another driver was negligent but that driver had no insurance or insufficient insurance, you’ll make an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim with your own insurer. If you got hurt by another driver who had insurance coverage, you’ll make a claim with that driver’s insurer.
  • Insurers usually make low ball settlement offers. Your attorney should send a demand letter to the insurer to ask for an appropriate amount of compensation so you start negotiating based on a dollar amount you believe is fair. If the insurer counters back, you’ll negotiate back and forth until you reach a number that is reasonable- if the insurer is willing to be reasonable. If not, you may need to go to court.
  • A liability release is permanent. Before an insurer will pay your damage claim, you’ll have to sign a release of liability. You cannot change your mind once this happens.  Be sure your settlement covers your damages and that you know the full extent of your losses before agreeing to settle your claim.
  • Know how to respond if an insurer won’t be fair. If your own insurer denies legitimate claims or doesn’t treat you fairly, you’ll need to make a bad faith claim. If the other driver’s insurer won’t make a fair settlement offer, you’ll need to pursue a personal injury claim.

By keeping these key pieces of info in mind, you will have a greater chance at recovering the compensation you deserve.

What to Do After Hit-and-Run Pedestrian Accidents

A tragic accident left an Oregon pedestrian dead recently. Law enforcement officers reported to the scene of an accident and found the victim lying in the middle of the road. Statesman Journal indicated that law enforcement officers determined the victim had been hit by a car and the driver of the car had left the scene of the crash. Police were asking anyone with information to contact law enforcement to provide details. Law enforcement officers also asked for local repair shops to keep an eye out for cars which had unexplained vehicle damage. pedestrian-1528286

Pedestrian accidents which cause fatalities are always tragic and damaging for family members the victim left behind. Unfortunately, in cases where a hit-and-run occurred, the losses suffered by the family may be especially severe. This is because while most crash victims and their families can pursue a claim against the driver who caused the death, it is not possible to do this in a hit-and-run unless the driver can be found.

What to Do After Hit and Run Pedestrian Accidents

When hit-and-run pedestrian accidents occur, locating the driver responsible for the accident is a top priority, especially if the accident is a fatal one. Drivers are required to stay at the scene to provide identifying information and talk with law enforcement officers who respond to the crash. It is a crime for motorists not to stop, and police will seek community help in identifying the hit-and-run driver, as they have done in this case.

If the pedestrian survives the accident, they should try to provide as much information as possible to the police to help law enforcement officers find the driver who was involved. This could include a description of the car and any partial or full license plate numbers. Unfortunately, if the victim is deceased, as in this case, law enforcement often has limited evidence to go on to find hit and run drivers. Still, it may be possible for the driver to be identified.

If the driver who caused the hit-and-run pedestrian accident is found, family members of the deceased can potentially make a wrongful death claim. If a victim survives but suffers serious injury, the victim could also pursue a personal injury lawsuit. The victim would need to be able to show the driver who was identified as leaving the scene of the crash was, in fact, the motorist who caused the accident to occur.

If the hit-and-run driver is never found, it may be possible for pedestrian accident victims or their families to try to recover at least some compensation from the victim’s auto insurer. Oregon law requires extensive insurance coverage, including personal injury protection (PIP), uninsured motorist coverage, and uninsured motorist coverage. Insurance can provide some compensation to victims and their families when a hit-and-run driver is not identified.

Holding Drivers Accountable for Oregon Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcycle accidents create a significant risk of death for those on motorcycles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates there is a substantially greater risk of death when involved in a crash on a motorcycle, as compared with in a passenger car.  Unfortunately, all too often, it is people in cars who make the unsafe choices which end up costing motorcycle riders their lives. motorcycle-1450689

Just recently, KVAL reported on one Oregon man who was potentially responsible for causing a motorcycle accident.

The alleged actions of this driver did not just result in one fatality, but actually may have killed three motorcyclists. The bikers were visiting from Germany, and notifying the families in a foreign country was creating complications for law enforcement.

Holding Drivers Accountable for Oregon Motorcycle Accidents

The actions of the driver from Oregon that allegedly killed the three German bikers have resulted in the driver being arrested and facing criminal charges.

The driver was 61-years-old and was driving a 2003 pickup truck. He was reportedly in the process of negotiating a right-hand curve on the road. He failed to negotiate the curve properly, according to Patrol Captain Tom Pritchard. As a result, the driver crossed into oncoming traffic.

The incident happened at around 12:15 PM. When the driver crossed the yellow line into oncoming traffic, he smashed into a large group of motorcycle riders. Two men and one woman on the motorcycles were killed. Three additional motorcyclists were injured, but said to be in stable condition at the hospital where they were transported after the incident.

The Oregon man who was arrested for hitting the bikers was being held at a detention center pending his first court appearance. It was not yet clear why he had crossed the center lane, but there was speculation he may have been taking pain medications after a recent abdominal surgery.

It remains to be seen if the Oregon man will actually be convicted of any criminal offenses for his role in the accident which led to the three deaths. In addition to criminal charges, it is also possible for drivers who cause motorcycle accidents to be held liable in civil court.

In civil court, victims hurt in motorcycle accidents (or surviving family members in situations where a motorcycle accident is deadly), can pursue claims against the driver who caused the collisions to occur. These cases are entirely separate from any criminal proceedings and the goal is for the victims of the accidents to be compensated for both economic losses and non-financial damages the crash has caused to occur.

The standard of proof and the process of making a civil case are very different than in a criminal case, and victims who wish to pursue a lawsuit in civil court to obtain damages should ensure they have a qualified legal advocate to provide assistance in making a case to obtain damages.

It is also possible for these cases to settle outside of court, if an agreement on compensation can be reached between crash victims and those responsible for providing compensation.

These Tips Can Help Portland Motorists to Avoid Getting Rear-Ended

Among the most common types of motor vehicle accidents, rear-end collisions can cause serious injuries or fatalities. Drivers have to be aware of the risks of rear-end crashes and of the top ways to prevent these accidents from occurring. When motorists make safer choices, crashes can be avoided. gps-driving-2-1353290

Tips to Avoid Getting Rear-Ended

In a typical rear-end crash, the driver in the rear vehicle is presumed to be the one who is responsible for causing the accident to occur. This is because the rear driver is expected to leave enough space in order to react to what the front driver does in the car. If the rear driver hits the front car, obviously he failed to leave sufficient space, and this failure was the likely cause of the collision.

While rear drivers are usually considered at fault, all drivers can take steps to try to avoid becoming involved in rear-end accidents. This includes trying to avoid being rear-ended. To reduce the chances your vehicle will be struck from the back, you should:

  • Use your signals. Don’t suddenly pull into another lane as another driver could end up rear-ending you. Use the turn signals to alert motorists to your intentions. Using your signal will also help drivers behind you to anticipate when you are going to slow down in preparation for a turn.
  • Don’t stop short if you can help it. When you slam on your brakes, you’ll be rear-ended unless the driver behind you is also able to slam on his or her brakes as well. If you can avoid stopping short, you reduce the danger. Be vigilant in paying attention to the road around you and try to look up as far ahead of you as possible so you can identify obstacles in plenty of time to avoid having to hit the brakes and stop suddenly.
  • Try not to vary your speed too much for no reason. If you are constantly speeding up and then slowing down, other drivers behind you may have a hard time anticipating your speed and reacting accordingly. When you slow down for no reason, the driver who is directly behind you may not notice or be able to slow down his own car on time.
  • Watch what other drivers are doing and leave yourself an escape. If you stop at an intersection, don’t pull right up behind the car in front of you as you’ll have no where to go if another car looks like it isn’t going to stop. Watch oncoming cars in your mirrors and make sure they are planning to brake when they approach your car.

Even when you do everything right, you cannot control what other motorists do. You need to make sure you are doing everything you can to keep yourself safe, but must also understand your rights if another driver rear-ends you despite your best efforts.

Portland accident victims should contact Zbinden & Curtis, Attorneys at Law, by calling 1-503-287-5000 or visiting http://www.zbinden-curtis.com.  Serving Portland, Hillsboro, Gresham and surrounding areas.