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Why Do Driverless Car Accidents Happen?


Driverless cars have taken the auto industry by storm, and every day more of them populate the roads and freeways. From time to time, there is a highly-publicized driverless car accident, and we wonder how this kind of technology could fail in its most fundamental objective to prevent collisions. Learn how and why driverless car accidents happen, and what you can do if you’re involved in a car accident with an autonomous vehicle.

Accident Statistics

In the vast majority of driverless car accidents, a human is responsible. A study published by Axios found that from 2014-2018, there were only 34 reported accidents involving self-driving cars in California, and most of them happened when a human rear-ended or bumped into a driverless car stopped at a red light or driving at a low speed. The self-driving cars were only at fault in four of those 34 incidents, and the vehicle was in autonomous mode in only one of the four.

Human Factors

Even though studies have shown that driverless cars in autonomous mode don’t cause many accidents, that doesn’t mean that the vehicle’s human operator is immune from any culpability if a car accident does happen.

While a driverless car can operate on its own without much human interference, it’s still an object moving at high speeds and requires just as much attention as a traditional vehicle during operation. Distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents, and the environment inside an autonomous vehicle can be conducive to distracted driving. Below are reasons why a driverless car operator may become susceptible to distracted driving:

  • Passive fatigue. Full vehicle automation has been shown to induce passive fatigue, which corresponds to a decrease in alertness and an increase in crash probability. This can happen after only 10 minutes in an autonomous vehicle.
  • Boredom. Prolonged periods of automated driving may cause operators to become bored, and bored drivers tend to engage in distracting activities like checking their phone instead of keeping their eyes on the road. This can also happen more frequently if an operator has a high level of trust in the vehicle’s automation.

These distractions can be costly, as the driver’s eyes may be taken off the road during a critical moment when they need to take manual control of the vehicle. In 2016, for example, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined the driver of an autonomous vehicle was partially the cause of a fatal car accident when the driver’s “inattention due to overreliance on vehicle automation … resulted in the car driver's lack of reaction to the presence of [a] truck.”

What Should I Do if I’m in an Accident with a Driverless Car?

If you’ve been in an accident with a driverless vehicle, treat the situation the same as you would if the accident had been with a traditional vehicle. Since driverless cars are still a relatively new phenomenon, states, insurers, and manufacturers are still working out who’s liable in the event of an accident. Different factors come into play, including whether there was a flaw in the automated system or whether the driver was distracted during the incident.

While it can be confusing to navigate through everything after you’ve been in a car accident, our Oxnard car accident lawyers have successfully secured millions of dollars on behalf of clients involved in car accidents, and we’re here to fight for you.

If your car accident was caused by a reckless or distracted driver, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Don’t wait; contact Crane Flores, LLPat (805) 628-4967 for a complimentary case evaluation.