Insurance Claims and Auto-Pilot: Are You at Fault if Your Car Is on Auto-Pilot?

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More car companies like Tesla are including self-driving features and autopilot in their vehicles. Driving-assistance autopilot features such as lane centering, automatic braking, semi-autonomous navigation, cruise control and more, can certainly make driving a car more convenient.
In addition, self-driving cars are also becoming more mainstream, as several companies like Lyft are testing out the technology in different cities.
But with the added conveniences offered by these technologies comes added challenges and an important question—who is at fault for an accident when the car is on autopilot?
A person taking a cell phone picture of two vehicles in an accident
Who is at fault for an accident when the car is on autopilot?

Problems with autopilot

Tesla has already faced some backlash for its vehicles being involved in tragic crashes when the autopilot or traffic-aware cruise control was engaged, according to CNN.
In April 2021, a 2019 Model S Tesla in autopilot crashed into a tree and burst into flames, and the two passengers inside were killed, according to driving.ca. Reports indicated that no one was in the driver’s seat at the time of the accident.
Later, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the vehicle did not have the technology for fully automated driving. He also said that Tesla cars with the autopilot engaged were still less likely to get into an accident than the average vehicle. But as driving.ca points out, autopilot mode does not guarantee safety.
According to Roll Call, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
investigated 34 crashes related to advanced driver-assistance systems.
The investigation mostly involved Tesla vehicles but also models from Cadillac, Volvo, Lexus and Navya, a French company that is developing self-driving shuttles.

Autopilot and car insurance

If a car on autopilot is involved in a crash, one could argue that the crash happened not due to human error, but because the vehicle itself malfunctioned.
According to driving.ca, if your vehicle is involved in a car accident, it may not matter to your car insurance company if autopilot was engaged or not.
As Roll Call points out, if a car is involved in an accident when autopilot is on and there isn’t a human driver to ask about the accident, car insurance companies will need to collect other information from the vehicle.
This would include speed and when systems became aware of the person, vehicle or object that is crashed with. Many cars already have an event data record that keeps that information.
Roll Call also says that the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, a trade group, is lobbying Congress to give insurers access to vehicle data. The association says this will support increasing automation of cars.
It will probably all come down to circumstance. The driver is still responsible for the overall operation if advanced driver-assist features are engaged, and liability would fall under personal auto, reports Roll Call.
If the vehicle did malfunction, then the manufacturer’s product liability could be invoked, which already happens with standard cars.
There aren’t yet legal requirements for autonomous or cars in autopilot in the U.S. But as they become more common, we may see legislation in the near future.
In Canada, a licensed driver must be behind the wheel when autopilot is in use. If the driver is using autopilot or self-parking mode and gets into an accident, fault still lies with the driver and not the technology, reports driving.ca.

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