Who Is Liable in a Self-Driving Car Crash? By Jackson Reed on January 31, 2023

driverless vehicle on a highway

Self-driving cars may become more common, but there are plenty of legitimate reasons to be worried about this evolving technology. A multi-car pile-up reportedly caused by a self-driving Tesla has caused a number of people to consider legal liability in driverless car accidents. (We’ll discuss that accident later in this blog post.)

The team at our Sugar Land, Richmond, and Katy, TX, law offices would like to explore issues related to liability in more detail below. If you were involved in a self-driving car accident, do not hesitate to speak with an auto accident lawyer at Reed & Terry, LLP.

Are Self-Driving Cars Legal in Texas?

Yes, self-driving cars are legal in the Lone Star State and have been since 2017. Texas state law requires autonomous vehicles to be insured, comply with all traffic laws, and be equipped with video recording devices.

Even though driverless vehicles are legal, they need to have drivers behind the wheel who are aware of their surroundings and can act quickly if needed.

Who Can Be Held Liable in a Self-Driving Car Accident?

Illustration of self-driving vehicle

Different parties can be held liable for a self-driving car accident. This includes:

  • The person behind the wheel at the time of the accident - If someone was behind the wheel during the crash, they can be held liable for failing to brake manually or otherwise take control of the vehicle when a crash was likely.

  • The owner of the driverless vehicle - If there was no one behind the wheel at the time of the crash, the owner of the self-driving vehicle can potentially be held liable for the accident.

  • The developers of the autonomous vehicle software - While self-driving car technology remains a work in progress, developers of the vehicle software can be held liable for bugs, defects, and other shortcomings in design and testing.

  • The manufacturers of the self-driving car - In addition to software designers, the makers of the self-driving car may be liable for major flaws in design or fabrication that contribute to an unsafe vehicle.

  • The suppliers of parts for the driverless vehicle - Issues with steering and brake systems may have less to do with the vehicle design and more to do with the components used. Faulty parts could mean the supplier is liable for a crash.

Keep in mind that other parties could be held liable for the accident depending on the circumstances. When discussing your crash with our lawyers, our team can identify other parties who could be held liable.

Multiple Parties Could Be Liable for a Self-Driving Car Accident

Given how many different parties can be held liable in a self-driving car accident, it should come as no surprise that multiple parties could be considered responsible for a crash. For instance, the person behind the wheel may have been distracted or inattentive prior to a collision and the autonomous vehicle’s software malfunctioned. In such a case, the software could have mitigated the severity of the accident, acting as a failsafe for human error.

During a consultation with Reed & Terry, LLP, we can review the nature of the self-driving car accident and assess the different factors at play. We can then help you pursue a lawsuit for catastrophic injuries or a product liability claim.

Additional Factors to Consider with Autonomous Vehicle Crashes

autonomous vehicle mode

In addition to the issues previously outlined, it’s worth considering some other contributing factors to auto accidents that could impact liability.

  • Other vehicles and motorists - While a car is self-driving, it’s important to note that the negligence of other drivers could be the true cause of an accident. This is particularly true of normal vehicles that are speeding or being driven recklessly.
  • Road conditions - Poor road conditions are always a hazard whether you’re in a self-driving vehicle or a normal vehicle. This includes issues like debris in the road, damaged roads, or poorly designed roads in general.
  • Weather conditions - Rain, snow, ice, and high winds can all make roadways hazardous. Self-driving vehicles could be used safely in normal driving and weather conditions, but they could be quite unsafe in less-than-optimal conditions.

The Recent Multi-Vehicle Tesla Crash

As mentioned earlier, self-driving car accidents are worth considering given the serious multi-vehicle collision that took place in California on Thanksgiving Day 2022.

This eight-vehicle crash on the Bay Bridge was caused by a 2021 Tesla Model S that was in full self-driving mode. The Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta software is an add-on for Teslas that has been highly touted by company owner Elon Musk. Musk even took to Twitter to promote FSD Beta just hours before this multi-car collision.

The driver of the Tesla claims that the FSD software malfunctioned just prior to the crash. The vehicle was traveling 55mph before suddenly changing lanes, at which point it abruptly slowed to just 20mph. As the Tesla came to a full stop, it was rear-ended by an oncoming vehicle, which set off a chain reaction of rear-end collisions. The eight-vehicle crash caused nine injuries; one of the accident victims was a two-year-old boy.

What This Crash May Mean for Our Communities

As self-driving car technology becomes more common, there is a possibility of these kinds of collisions happening on the highways and roads in Houston and its surrounding communities. Given the sheer size of the highway system, these kinds of collisions could be catastrophic.

Why You Need to Speak with a Car Accident Lawyer

Reed & Terry lawyers

Given the complexity of self-driving car accidents, it’s crucial to speak with a skilled auto accident lawyer about what happened. This applies to anyone who was struck by a self-driving car or anyone in an autonomous vehicle that malfunctioned.

During a complimentary consultation at our law offices in Sugar Land, Richmond, and Katy, our attorneys can review your case and determine who may be liable for the crash. We can hold a negligent driver or a negligent corporation accountable for the collision.

Our Law Firm Works on a Contingency Fee Basis

You should remember that Reed & Terry, LLP works on a contingency fee basis. That means that we will only collect attorney fees for our services if your case is successfully settled or wins a favorable verdict in court.

The bottom line: with free consultations and contingency representation, you have nothing to lose when you work with our law firm.

At Reed & Terry, LLP, we are ready to listen.

Set Up a Free Consultation with Our Auto Collision Attorneys

If you or someone you love has been involved in a crash with a self-driving vehicle, we are ready to help. Contact us online today for a free legal consultation.



Attorney Jackson R. Reed

About Jackson R. Reed
Attorney Jackson R. Reed has served clients since 1994. He is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA), the Houston Trial Lawyers Association (HTLA), and the State Bar of Texas.

Read Jackson Reed's Full Bio | All Posts by Jackson Reed

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