Houston Matters

Who’s At Fault When A Self-Driving Car Hurts Someone?

After a death in Arizona involving an autonomous vehicle, Houston Matters learns more about the technology, its legal ramifications, and its potential in Greater Houston.

Cars back up during afternoon weekday traffic on southbound Interstate 45 in Houston north of downtown.

Last month, a pedestrian died when struck by a self-driving Uber SUV in Arizona. It was the first such death involving a fully autonomous test vehicle.

The car, a Volvo, was in self-driving mode, but had a human backup driver ready at the wheel. The driver says he first saw 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg when the vehicle struck her. She was walking a bicycle outside the lines of a crosswalk. Authorities have not determined fault in the incident.

As autonomous vehicle technology continues to develop and grow in use, this is the sort of scenario that’s long had legal and consumer advocates spooked. So, who’s at fault when a driverless car hurts someone? And how can we minimize such accidents in the first place?

First, Dr. Swaminathan Gopalswamy of Texas A&M University explains how autonomous vehicles work and details their safety features.

Then, William Kohler, an attorney from the Detroit-based Dykema law firm, and Nic Philips of Ideal Electric discuss the potential for autonomous vehicles taking hold in any significant way in the foreseeable future here in Greater Houston — and whether an accident like this might slow the pursuit of driverless cars.

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