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Why Accidents Involving Self-Driving Cars Are So Complex?

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

Self-driving car accidents are becoming more common as automation technologies advance. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicles equipped with Automated Driving Systems (ADS) caused 130 crashes as of May 2022. 108 of these accidents involved collisions with another vehicle.

While these vehicles have a lower crash rate than standard cars, when accidents do occur, they present a complicated web of legal challenges. Determining liability—whether it rests with the vehicle’s manufacturer, the software developer, the car’s owner, or other parties—is complex.

At Cochran Kroll & Associates, P.C., our car accident attorneys have the experience to navigate these issues. If you or a loved one has been involved in a self-driving car accident in Michigan, we can help you receive fair compensation for your damages.

Michigan and Self-driving Cars

Michigan, often regarded as the cradle of the American automotive industry, has positioned itself at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle revolution. The state’s history with companies like Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler provides a unique blend of tradition and innovation, making it an ideal hub for the evolution of transportation.

Michigan’s legislative environment has been proactive, with lawmakers passing regulations allowing the testing of self-driving vehicles and their public sale once certified.

Michigan has enacted several laws to permit the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles. For instance, in December 2016, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a package of bills that allowed the testing of autonomous vehicles without steering wheels, pedals, or needed human intervention. The laws also allow for the public sale of self-driving cars once tested and certified.

This progressive stance ensures that the state remains a player in automotive R&D.
The University of Michigan’s Mcity, a mock urban environment, epitomizes this commitment.

What are Self-Driving Cars?

Self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles, are a groundbreaking technological leap in the car industry. These vehicles are equipped with sophisticated ADS systems that contain features enabling them to navigate and operate without human intervention:

  • Cameras: Cameras capture visual data, enabling the car’s AI to recognize and interpret objects, road signs, and traffic signals.
  • Lidar: Lidar systems use laser beams to create detailed 3D maps of the car’s surroundings, providing precise distance and depth information.
  • Radar: Radar sensors emit radio waves to detect the presence and velocity of objects, helping the car identify potential obstacles or vehicles.
  • Ultrasonic sensors: Ultrasonic sensors assist with short-range object detection, which is beneficial for parking and low-speed maneuvers.
  • Artificial intelligence: The AI system processes data from these sensors, combining it with pre-loaded maps and extensive training data to make informed driving decisions.

The idea behind self-driving cars is to make transportation safer and more efficient. By relying on advanced technology, these vehicles aim to reduce the number of accidents caused by human error, which remains a big contributor to road incidents.

These driverless cars are also revolutionizing mobility, particularly for elderly or disabled individuals with limited transportation access. By providing a new level of autonomy, self-driving vehicles can offer greater independence and accessibility to those facing mobility challenges.

How Self-Driving Cars Operate?

Self-driving cars operate at different levels of autonomy, using varying degrees of automation. These levels range from Level 0 to Level 5.

  • Level 0 – No automation: In this level, the vehicle has no autonomous capabilities, and the driver controls all aspects of driving.
  • Level 1 – Driver assistance: At Level 1, the car can assist with steering or acceleration/deceleration, but not at the same time. Drivers remain in control of most driving tasks.
  • Level 2 – Partial automation: In Level 2, the car can simultaneously control steering and acceleration/deceleration under certain conditions. However, the driver must always remain engaged and monitor the driving environment.
  • Level 3 – Conditional automation: At this level, the car can perform all aspects of driving under specific conditions and environments. Drivers must be present but can disengage from driving tasks during designated scenarios.
  • Level 4 – High automation: In Level 4, the vehicle can handle all driving tasks and environmental conditions within a defined operational design domain (ODD). Human intervention is only needed in exceptional circumstances.
  • Level 5 – Full automation: At the highest level, the self-driving car is fully autonomous and capable of operating in all conditions without human intervention.

Types of Self-Driving Car Accidents

Despite their advanced tech, self-driving cars are involved in accidents on the road. This can include crashes with other ADS-equipped cars, human-driven vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists, or single-vehicle accidents.

  • Crashes with other ADS-equipped cars: When two autonomous vehicles meet on the road, they sometimes struggle to communicate effectively or interpret each other’s movements. These cars occasionally make incorrect predictions about the other’s behavior, leading to collisions.
  • Collisions with human-driven vehicles: One of the primary concerns with self-driving cars is their interaction with traditional vehicles. Of the accidents recorded by NHTSA in 2022, sixty-one involved passenger cars, ten were with pickup trucks, five with vans, three with heavy trucks, and two with motorcycles. The nuances of human behavior, often unpredictable, present a unique challenge for these automated systems.
  • Incidents with pedestrians or cyclists: Self-driving vehicles can collide with cyclists or pedestrians, causing injuries or fatalities. There were seven reported incidents involving cyclists and two with non-motorists recorded by NHTSA in 2022.
  • Single-vehicle accidents: Not all self-driving car accidents involve other road users. Some incidents see the vehicle colliding with stationary objects. Six ADS-related accidents in the NHTSA report involved a collision with fixed objects, with one incident involving an autonomous vehicle hitting a tree.

What Causes Self-Driving Cars to Crash?

Self-driving car accidents can occur due to technical, operational, and human-related factors. If you were involved in a self-driving car accident in which you were a passenger or the driver of the other vehicle, it may have been due to one of the following:

  • Technology malfunctions: Just as our phones and computers can sometimes glitch, so can a car’s AI and sensors. When this happens, the car might not think clearly, which can cause accidents. Sensors, like cameras and radars, act as the car’s eyes and ears. When they fail, the car is driving blind, making it tough to detect obstacles or read road conditions accurately.
    Another big issue is software bugs. The car’s brain is its software; just like any computer program, it can have errors or flaws. When the software doesn’t work right, the car might misinterpret what it’s sensing or make unpredictable decisions, raising the risk of an accident.
  • Inadequate testing and validation: Inadequate testing and validation procedures can make self-driving cars ill-prepared to handle real-world scenarios, increasing the likelihood of accidents in unpredictable situations.
    Manufacturers must use real-world testing scenarios involving varied terrains, weather conditions, and traffic scenarios to validate the technology’s safety and preparedness for on-road performance. When they fail to do so, it can lead to collisions.
  • Human error and miscommunication: Self-driving cars are designed to minimize errors, but human actions, both inside and outside the vehicle, can still trigger accidents. As passengers in semi-autonomous vehicles, people might misinterpret the car’s capabilities, neglecting to supervise its decisions and failing to intervene in dangerous situations.
    Human drivers sharing the road with these autonomous vehicles can be unpredictable, making sudden maneuvers or acting negligently by speeding, driving under the influence, or disobeying traffic laws. This combination of over-reliance from within and unforeseeable actions from outside can lead to accidents.

Why is Determining Fault Difficult in Self-Driving Car Accidents?

Determining fault in a self-driving car accident can be more complex than in a traditional accident scenario. In collisions between two human drivers, fault usually revolves around driver error, environmental factors, or vehicle malfunctions.

However, with ADS collisions, insurance companies and lawyers must consider software programs, sensors, and decision-making algorithms to determine what caused the accident and who is responsible.

Potentially responsible parties include:

  • Manufacturer of the autonomous vehicle: Sometimes, the car’s design or certain features may be flawed, leading to accidents. You may be able to file a claim against the manufacturers in this situation.
  • Software developer: If the software directing the car makes an erroneous decision, its creator might be at fault.
  • Human driver: In vehicles that aren’t fully autonomous, the human behind the wheel may still bear some responsibility if they fail to intervene appropriately. If you were the passenger in the ADS, you could hold another driver liable if their actions caused the collision.
  • Component manufacturers: Parts like sensors or cameras can malfunction. If so, the companies that made these specific parts could be liable.

Navigating the legal maze of self-driving car accidents is tricky, given the blend of technology and legal factors involved. Our car crash attorneys at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., understand these challenges and can help you determine fault in your self-driving accident case.

We will carefully review your accident report, software logs, and other evidence, such as traffic cameras and witness statements, to determine where the fault lies. We can consult with tech experts to decipher any software glitches or sensor malfunctions that might have contributed to the incident.

Once we identify the responsible parties, we will help you seek compensation by filing an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. Our knowledge of Michigan’s auto insurance laws and liability process can help you obtain a fair settlement to pay for damages like lost wages, medical bills, or rehabilitative care.

What to Do After a Self-Driving Car Collision?

A self-driving car collision can be a disorienting experience, but knowing the appropriate steps to take immediately after the accident can help protect your well-being and legal rights.

  • Ensure safety: In the aftermath of an accident with a self-driving vehicle, your safety comes first. Assess any injuries and move away from the autonomous vehicle’s path.
    If you’re inside the ADS vehicle, try to exit safely, especially if the car emanates smoke or behaves erratically. If you can, disengage any autonomous functions or put the vehicle into manual mode to prevent further movements or complications.
  • Call for help: Contact emergency services immediately and report the accident. If there are injuries or substantial physical damage, request medical assistance to assess the injuries.
  • Get medical attention: Seek medical care as soon as possible after the crash. A medical professional can assess you for obvious or hidden injuries, such as a TBI or internal bleeding, and provide appropriate treatment. This also helps support any claims you make regarding the accident by showing your injuries’ severity and tying them to the crash.
  • Contact the police: Regardless of the accident’s severity, report it to the police. A police report will document the incident, which can be valuable for insurance claims and legal proceedings. However, if the accident resulted in injuries, more than $1,000 in property damage, or fatalities, you must report it to the police per Michigan law.
  • Gather information: Exchange contact and insurance information with other parties involved in the accident. Collect details such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and insurance policy numbers. Also, note the vehicle’s make, model, and license plate numbers.
  • Document the scene: If it is safe, take pictures of the scene, including vehicle damage and positions, road conditions, traffic signs, and recognizable landmarks. Preserve any evidence related to the accident, such as dashcam footage or records of the self-driving car’s activity leading up to the collision.
  • Collect witness information: If there are witnesses to the accident, get their contact information. Witness testimonies can provide crucial insights into the events leading up to the collision, helping to establish a clearer picture of what occurred.

Once you have received medical treatment and are able, contact a skilled auto attorney. Your attorney with Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C., can review your legal options, investigate your case, and help you take your next legal steps.

Self-driving car companies and their insurers may try to refute your claim with strong defenses, often arguing the vehicle acted as programmed or blaming external factors. Your attorney can counter these claims by drawing on technical analyses, expert testimonies, and other evidence.

For instance, they might challenge the software’s reliability or the vehicle’s maintenance record or question the accuracy of the car’s AI-powered algorithms. Our experience can level the playing field, ensuring big tech doesn’t deny your valid claims.

Compensation After a Self-Driving Car Accident

Seeking Fair Compensation After a Self-Driving Car Accident

Facing the aftermath of a self-driving car accident can be overwhelming and full of uncertainties. We’re here to protect your rights. We’ll confront insurance companies head-on and help you receive fair compensation for your injuries and damages. Contact us for a free consultation; let us be your advocate, guiding you to a fair settlement after a self-driving car accident.

Our contingency fee basis means we only get paid if we win your case, so there is no financial risk to you to get started. Call our law firm today at 1-866-MICH-LAW and schedule your no-obligation, free case evaluation.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Iain Bowie is an experienced copywriter who crafts easy-to-understand legal articles, so readers can get the assistance they need.



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