Tesla Crash Raises Questions About Self-Driving Liability

If a self-driving car crashes, who is liable? It sounds like the start of a bad joke or a philosophical query. But as self-driving cars become a reality, it is a question that needs to be addressed.

In 2016, the first deadly self-driving car accident occurred in the United States, and it actually happened in Florida. The driver was behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S sedan when he collided with a turning truck. The Tesla’s driver died in the crash. At the time of the accident, the car was in its self-driving mode.

Who is Liable?

This doesn’t mean, however, that the car itself is totally responsible for the accident. According to a recent accident report from the National Transportation Safety Board, the self-driving system was activated for about 37 minutes of the driver’s 41 minute trip. While the system was activated, the driver only had his hands on the wheel for a minute and a half.

Even in a self-driving car, alertness is important. The system could fail, or not recognize an upcoming obstacle. When this happens, the driver needs to be able to take control. To prevent accidents, Tesla technology warns drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. Before the 2016 accident, the car’s control panel displayed seven visual warnings, plus six audible warnings. Going over the speed limit, the driver ignored these warnings, and collided with the truck at full-speed.

Futuristic, But Not Perfect

Self-driving cars are cool and futuristic, but as this accident shows, they aren’t without dangers. Until technology can entirely eliminate human error, it’s best to stay alert and avoid distractions on the wheel, even if the car is doing most of the work.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.


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