What Will Self-Driving Cars Mean for Auto Accident Liability? Las Vegas Auto Accident Lawyer Discusses Impact of Automated Vehicles in Nevada

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Audi announced this month that it has secured a license to test a self-driving car on Nevada roads. Las Vegas auto accident lawyer James A. Oronoz explains what might happen when one of these self-driving cars gets in an accident.

"Every new technology brings new challenges to legal thought," said James A. Oronoz, Las Vegas auto accident lawyer.

The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has approved a second license for an automated, self-driving vehicle in the state. Auto manufacturer Audi joined Google as companies with permission to experiment with motor vehicles that can drive themselves on a sort of auto-pilot. This new, emerging technology, however, brings with it new questions of who will be responsible for auto accidents, said James A. Oronoz, Las Vegas auto accident lawyer.

"Every new technology brings new challenges to legal thought," Oronoz said. "However, the general principle remains the same: When a person is wronged by the actions of another, he or she should be able to seek redress through the courts. The question here is how, and who will be responsible."

In most car accidents, the purpose of any subsequent litigation is to determine who is responsible, and for how much the accident they are responsible, Oronoz said. A person driving has a legal duty to everyone he or she shares the road with to drive as a reasonable driver would, he said.

Most auto accidents are caused by human error — a driver runs a red light, or is texting and doesn't notice another car stopped ahead of them, or takes a curve too fast, Oronoz said. Humans make mistakes in judgment and drive poorly, and can be held accountable for those mistakes, he said.

However, the computers operating the automated vehicles may make no such errors. In fact, according to TIME Magazine, out of more than 300,000 miles drive by Google's automated test vehicles, only one has gotten into an accident — which happened while a human was operating it.
It's unlikely, though, that even if every vehicle on the road was replaced by a computer-driven vehicle tomorrow, there would be a complete eradication of all auto accidents, Oronoz said. However, it could make a more prominent element of whether the human in the car was in control at the time of the accident.

"Clearly, this is going to be one area where a lot's going to depend on how the specific technology bears out once the self-driving cars are ready for mass marketing," Oronoz said. "If, for example, what becomes popular is more of a hybrid, where the person drives sometimes and the computer other times, then one of the first questions the lawyers may have to ask is who was operating the vehicle at the time."

The manufacturer of the car might bear more responsibility for automated vehicles. Human mistakes may still account for accidents, but, instead of a driver miscalculating the road, it will be because the manufacture made an error in programming, said Oronoz. The resulting cases could work more like product liability cases, he said. Under a products liability case, the creator of a product is held liable for putting an unsafe product into the stream of commerce.

"If a person programming the car's maps adds a road that doesn't exist, and the car attempts to turn onto that road, it could cause serious injuries, both to those in the car and those in any vehicle the car may impact," Oronoz said. "The manufacturer could found liable, so some degree, in such a case."

Despite the fact that cars being driven by computers are already zipping around Sin City streets, Oronoz said it's unlikely that the job of a Las Vegas auto accident attorney will be any less busy in the near future.

"Computers may not make mistakes, but the people who build them do," he said. "Whenever you have such large masses of metal going around at high speeds, there's going to be accidents that happen. And when people need their injuries redressed, we're here to help them."

James A. Oronoz is a Las Vegas personal injury lawyer with Oronoz & Ericsson LLC who represents the victims of 18-wheeler accidents, pedestrian accidents, taxi cab accidents or any other accident involving motor vehicles. He is also a personal injury lawyer, representing the victims of negligence.

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