What was once science fiction is now poised to become a reality in the very near future. We already have cars that include increasingly sophisticated technology that assists drivers in a variety of ways, as well as Tesla’s autopilot mode. Driverless trucks and cars are on the horizon, promising to revolutionize our lives both on and off the road. However, there is a complex legal framework behind this developing technology as well as many potential legal issues. If you have been involved in an accident with a car where this technology may be an issue, you need a car accident attorney who understands the complex nuances that these cases present. 

Defining Self-Driving Cars

When we talk about self-driving cars, people typically mean vehicles with some type of driver-assist technology. In other words, the car isn’t fully autonomous. The driver remains and is expected to remain in control of the vehicle at all times. 

The automotive industry recognizes five levels of self-driving cars: 

  • Level 1 - This consists of purely assistive technology such as adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assistance. Level 1 vehicles have technology that assists with either steering or acceleration and braking, but not both. 
  • Level 2 - This is technology that can assist with both steering and acceleration and braking. The driver remains responsible for driving the vehicle. 
  • Level 3 - This is technology that performs on a more sophisticated level, handling a variety of safety and handling features simultaneously. The driver must be present and ready to resume full control of the vehicle. 
  • Level 4 - These are vehicles that are able to complete an entire trip from start to finish under the right conditions. A driver is not needed to operate the vehicle. 
  • Level 5 - These are vehicles that are fully automated and can handle all aspects of driving under any circumstances. 

To be clear, level 4 and 5 automated vehicles are not yet available for purchase by consumers. Nonetheless, there are a variety of consumer vehicles on the road today that have varying degrees of self-driving technology, in addition to various companies that are testing fully automated vehicles on Florida’s roads and highways. 

Self-Driving Cars Are Legal Under Florida Law 

Many people are not aware of the fact that Florida is one of three states leading the nation when it comes to establishing a legal framework for self-driving cars. The Florida Autonomous Vehicle Law went into effect in 2019, allowing a person or corporation to put a driverless car on the road for testing purposes. This means that cars do not need to have a driver - or even a passenger - inside the car when it is operating.

That said, Florida’s laws allowing for automated vehicles largely do not change existing legal obligations to make a reasonable effort to ensure the safety of others and avoid accidents.   

A Complicated Question of Liability

In the typical car accident case, the main issue is usually determining which driver’s negligence caused the accident. The drivers are easily identifiable and the cause is usually driver error.  

Complex legal and factual issues are arising as cars and trucks become increasingly autonomous. Determining what caused the accident or who may be at fault is more difficult than it is with non-autonomous vehicles. Depending on the technology in use at the time of the accident, there may be overlapping questions concerning whether the vehicle itself is to blame or whether the driver was negligent in some way. Here are some examples of how these cases can be complicated: 

  • While driving with lane-assist enabled, a driver causes an accident when they drift into another lane. The driver claims that the lane-assist technology failed but also should have been paying attention and corrected the drift. 
  • A driver engages autopilot and begins reading a book. The vehicle fails to alert the driver to resume control in order, resulting in an accident. While the warning system did in fact fail, the driver should have been paying attention and ready to resume control of the vehicle. 
  • A fully autonomous truck causes an accident when its lidar system fails while driving in the rain due to a design flaw. There is no driver or other occupant in the truck, and the cause of the accident is not apparent or easy to identify by the other parties involved in the accident. 

In the first two examples, there may be overlapping issues involving both negligence on the part of the driver as well as potential product liability issues. In the last example, the fact that the accident was caused by a design defect means that you will have to pursue your claim against the manufacturer of the truck. It will likely be a corporation that is located out of state or even overseas. It is also likely that they will deny any responsibility for the accident. 

An experienced car accident attorney can help you get to the bottom of these issues so that you can hold the correct party or parties accountable and get the compensation you need to make a full recovery. 

What About PIP? 

Determining liability may not be as crucial an issue in Florida as it is in other states since Florida is a “no-fault” state when it comes to car accidents. This means that your PIP (personal injury protection) coverage under your insurance will pay for your medical bills and other losses regardless of who is at fault. While this is good news for anyone involved in an accident with a self-driving vehicle, it is important to realize that PIP will not cover all of your losses: 

  • PIP covers only 80% of your medical expenses up to $10,000
  • PIP covers only 60% of your lost wages up to $10,000 

In order to recover any losses not covered by PIP, you will need to pursue a claim against the responsible party - either the driver, the vehicle manufacturer, or both. If you have uncovered losses and bills you can’t pay, a car accident lawyer can help you get the compensation you are entitled to. 

Contact a Car Accident Lawyer at Powell, Powell, & Powell Today

Whatever type of car accident you have been in, we have more than 65 years of experience in helping our clients get fair compensation for their injuries, lost wages, and other losses. Let us help you get your life back on track - call us today at 850-682-2757 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.