“Until recently, the dichotomy between whether an automobile driver or an automobile manufacturer should be liable for an accident has been distinct — the driver is liable when his or her alleged negligence causes an accident and a manufacturer may be found liable when its defective product is the proximate cause of an accident,” Nicole M. Crowley and Jonathan Fabozzi write in New Jersey Defense. Many vehicles now come with sophisticated driver assistance systems, complicating the traditional dichotomy of liability.
“These systems are designed to aid the driver under certain circumstances but they do not replace or minimize a driver’s operation of the car. A driver’s own negligence will still result in liability,” Nicole and Jonathan — members of the firm’s Transportation practice — explain. Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have investigated issues arising from autonomous vehicle technology, and both suggest “that manufacturers may be held liable if their autonomous vehicles do not include enough safeguards, either in design or in their warnings, to ensure that a human driver pays proper attention while driving a vehicle equipped with autonomous features.”
“The equipment is designed as an aid to assist human drivers, and human drivers are still tasked with monitoring and reacting to the driving environment. The traditional dichotomy between negligence and product liability remains intact,” Nicole and Jonathan conclude. Still, “[a] clear framework for apportioning liability between automobile manufacturers and human drivers when an autonomous vehicle is involved in an accident is still in its infancy.”
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