August 20, 2019 Articles

Navigating Liability Complaints Related to Automated Vehicles

Addressing design complaints about vehicle automation requires a robust assessment of the underlying scientific evidence.

By John L. Campbell

Driver-assistance systems have evolved from aiding the driver in very specific situations (e.g., electronic stability control) to supporting a broader range of driving tasks (e.g., adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping systems) and even to conditional automation (e.g., driverless shuttles and sustained highway driving). While recent demonstrations of automated vehicles (AVs) support the possibility that even conditional automation can provide safety benefits compared to fully manual driving, many driver behavior challenges remain. For example, while automated vehicle designers may assume that drivers will trust and understand these vehicles and perform their allocated monitoring roles, recent on-road incidents involving fatalities (in Florida, Arizona, and California) have undercut such assumptions and remind us that AVs can change the nature of driving in unanticipated and complex ways.

Surveys on driver acceptance of AVs conducted in the wake of these incidents suggest that the public’s tolerance for crashes and fatalities in AVs is much lower than that for manual driving (see, e.g., AAA, 2018). This intolerance highlights the importance of preparing for the inevitable litigation that will follow the broader implementation of AVs on our streets and highways.

Against this backdrop, it is important to examine not only driver behavior challenges relating to AVs that might be the basis for products liability lawsuits but also strategies to use when reviewing scientific research to respond to those claims.

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