Self-driving cars may be the way of the future but they still have a ways to go. Autonomous vehicle test programs are in various stages of progress across the country, including Colorado. However, as of July 2020, autonomous vehicles are not transporting rideshare riders in Colorado.
When self-driving cars malfunction and cause an injury to passengers or others on the road, who is to blame? Liability in an autonomous vehicle accident may depend on a number of factors, including the fault of other parties. However, the developer, designer, or manufacturer of the vehicle may be liable for putting a dangerous product on the road.
If you were injured in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or cyclist in Colorado, call the attorneys at accidentdenver.com for help. Experienced car accident attorneys will work to get you the maximum compensation after a rideshare accident in Denver. Contact us today for a free consultation.
According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), there are 5 levels of automation for vehicles. Level 0 is no automation, where the driver performs all tasks.
- Level 1 - Driver Assistance
- Level 2 - Partial Automation
- Level 3 - Conditional Automation
- Level 4 - High Automation
- Level 5 - Full Automation
Many cars currently have Level 1 options. Some cars have Level 2 capability, including Tesla Autopilot, Volvo Pilot Assist, and Audi Traffic Jam Assist. Level 3 capable vehicles are starting to come onto the market, including the latest Audi A8.
Level 4 - High Automation: These vehicles are capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions by the driver may have the option to control the vehicle.
Level 5 - Full Automation: These vehicles are capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions. However, the driver may still have the option to control the vehicle.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “automated vehicles' potential to save lives and reduce injuries is rooted in one critical and tragic fact: 94% of serious crashes are due to human error.“
Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Programs
There are a number of tech and automotive companies testing out self-driving and autonomous vehicle technology. Some of these companies are long-standing car companies like BMW, others are less familiar start-ups like Aptiv. Some of the self-driving vehicle programs include:
- Cruise (General Motors)
These self-driving vehicles generally require a human driver to sit behind the wheel to take control if there is an emergency. For example, Lyft using Aptiv self-driving vehicles has completed more than 100,000 rides in places like Las Vegas and Pittsburgh. However, Aptiv uses one or two people in the car to act as a back-up and review data.
Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Programs in Colorado
Colorado was one of the first states to put a policy into place regarding the use of highly autonomous driving systems. Under Senate Bill 17-213:
- Vehicles with automation levels 0-3 are legal with a human driver in the vehicle.
- Vehicles with automation levels 4-5 are authorized to operate in Colorado if they can meet all applicable state and federal laws.
- No local jurisdiction may set policies or regulations for an autonomous driving system that are different from the standards set for a human driver.
Record-Setting Driverless Truck Delivery
There have been a number of tests and pilot programs using autonomous vehicles in Colorado. In 2016, Uber's self-driving truck subsidiary, Otto, shipped 45,000 cans of Budweiser from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. A driver monitored the truck along the 120-mile and 2-hour journey. However, the driver did take the wheel while going on and off the highway ramps.
EasyMile Autonomous Shuttle for RTD
In 2019, Colorado and Denver had their first on-road deployment of an autonomous vehicle shuttle. EasyMile operated the driverless shuttle to connect passengers from the 61st and Peña commuter rail station to the 61st and Peña Park-n-Ride lot via four stops. The shuttle ran a predetermined route Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., making a complete loop every 15 minutes. The 61AV demonstration project concluded on August 2, 2019.
Partly Automated Vehicles
Until autonomous vehicles get approval for driving without a back-up driver, many drivers currently have access to vehicles with partly automated driving. This has been around for a few years now and is becoming more common. Among the most common are the accident avoidance systems that can brake automatically when the vehicle detects stopped traffic ahead. Some of the semi-automated safety features include:
- Auto Emergency Braking (AEB)
- Forward Collision Warning
- Driver Attention Detection
- Intelligent Speed Assist (ISA)
- Blindspot Warning System
- Active Cruise Control
- Lane-Keeping Assist
Auto Emergency Braking (AEB)
Auto emergency braking will apply the brakes if the vehicle detects other vehicles in front of the car to prevent crashes. There may be multiple categories of AEB in vehicles, including low-speed systems, higher speed systems using radar, and pedestrian systems to detect pedestrians in the path of the vehicle. AEB may be used in conjunction with Forward Collision Warning systems.
Driver Attention Detection
Driver attention detection is supposed to look for signs that the driver may be drowsy or inattentive, like not keeping in the lane. The system may alert drivers, suggest the driver take a break, or take control of the vehicle.
Active Cruise Control
Active cruise control or adaptive cruise control detects the distance and speed of the vehicles ahead and maintains a safe following distance.
Lane Keep Assist
Lane keep assist and lane departure warnings detect the lane lines and alert a driver when the vehicle crosses the lines or drifts. Lane keep assist can take corrective action to steer the vehicle back into the lane.
These types of automated programs, along with others, can work together to provide for a driving experience that is very close to fully autonomous vehicles. However, drivers are generally still responsible for anything that happens when they are behind the wheel. The most fully-functioning self-driving system available on the road was Tesla's autopilot function. However, some parts of the system had to be changed after it appeared some drivers were fully relying on the self-driving system and were not paying attention to the road.
Autonomous Rideshare Vehicles
The major rideshare companies operating in Colorado are Lyft and Uber. Both companies have been testing autonomous vehicle programs.
Autonomous Lyft Vehicles
Lyft's self-driving program has partnered with Aptiv to operate a number of rides in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, and Singapore. In 2017, Lyft launched Level 5, their self-driving program. They began operating on public roads in 2018. By 2020, Lyft with Aptiv have provided over 100,000 self-driving rides in Las Vegas.
Autonomous Uber Vehicles
Uber's Advanced Technologies Group is continuing to work on their self-driving technology and pilot programs. There are test programs operating in a number of cities in the U.S. and Canada, including:
- San Francisco
- Washington, D.C.
As with other test programs, there is a co-pilot in the passenger seat at all times. There are also limited areas of operation and time of day restrictions.
In 2018, a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The co-pilot was supposed to be watching the road and could take control if the self-driving system failed. However, the back-up driver was watching “The Voice,” on her phone at the time of the accident.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation, the self-driving software did not properly identify the person as a pedestrian, and the vehicle failed to slow down, stop, or avoid the person walking across the road.
Liability in an Autonomous Vehicle Accident
The person or party who was responsible for the accident is generally liable for paying for the damages. Liability in a regular car accident can be difficult to clarify when each driver has a different story about what happened. With an autonomous vehicle involved, liability may be a different question.
If a self-driving car is involved in an accident with another vehicle, motorcycle, cyclist, or pedestrian, the personal injury attorney representing the accident victim may be able to get ahold of the vehicle data, including camera, recordings, and show whether the vehicle software or hardware failed or determine the cause of the accident. If the autonomous vehicle caused the accident, the company may be liable for damages.
Liability for an autonomous vehicle accident may fall under strict liability. When a product is defective, the company that produces, manufactures, or distributes the product can be held liable for any accident or injuries caused by the defective product.
Under Colorado product defect laws, the injury victim does not need to show that any specific person was negligent. Instead, the injury victim can recover by showing that the product was defective and the defective product caused the injury. Product liability defects are generally based on one or more of the following:
- Design defect
- Manufacturing defect
- Failure to warn defect
Liability in a Partially Autonomous Vehicle Accident
In a vehicle with partial automation, (including Levels 1-3), the driver will generally be liable because they are supposed to be operating with due care, even if the car has taken over some operation. If the auto-functions fail, the driver is responsible for taking control of the vehicle. If the driver is sleeping, watching a movie on their phone, or reading the newspaper, the driver may have been negligent in their driving and should be held liable for damages.
Autonomous Vehicle Accidents in Colorado
The technology surrounding autonomous vehicles is constantly evolving and we will likely see autonomous vehicles driving around Denver, Boulder, Aurora, and throughout Colorado in the near future. If you are involved in an accident with an autonomous vehicle, partially autonomous vehicle, or ride-sharing service, talk to a personal injury attorney who understands how these cars operate and how they can make mistakes. Contact the attorneys at accidentdenver.com today for a free consultation.