Driverless Vehicle Accidents in Minnesota

June 24, 2022

Minnesota is ahead of the curve when it comes to driverless vehicles. The state has already invested millions into building the country’s longest highway that is ready for automated cars and is making advanced efforts to lead the nation in research and smart road technology. However, although experts state that self-driving vehicles can cut down on accidents and save lives, there is still skepticism around potential problems that can lead to collisions—for example, defects in automation systems and their inability to communicate with pedestrians. When a driverless vehicle is involved in an accident, insurance claims become significantly more complicated. Determining who will be responsible for damages and injuries after a driverless vehicle crash is an ongoing issue and the subject of many lawsuits. 

Auto Pilot Malfunctions & Driverless Cars

Automakers claim that driverless vehicles are completely safe, but they have been the subject of many recent accidents and lawsuits. For example, Tesla has been a topic of conversation for the lawsuits they are facing for alleged defects with their autopilot system, but none have gone to trial so far. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened two formal defect investigations into Tesla’s driver-assistance feature after a series of collisions with parked emergency vehicles. Tesla, along with other self-driving vehicle manufacturers, warns drivers that autopilot is a driver-assist program and is not designed to be fully autonomous. As a result, drivers must still be ready to intervene at all times. However, common causes of autopilot collisions include: 

  • Autopilot will not suddenly brake for stationary objects when traveling at a high speed. 
  • Drivers use autopilot to take their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road. 
  • Before Tesla’s Version 9 update, Autopilot had issues with left-hand freeway exits and forks in the road. The vehicles tended to veer into those exits, potentially hitting the median barrier. 

In one particular accident in 2016, a Tesla driver using Autopilot crashed into a tractor-trailer crossing a divided highway. The Tesla did not slow down and went under the trailer. After an extensive investigation by Tesla and the NHTSA, it was determined that the driver was not paying attention since the vehicle gave multiple warnings to put their hands back on the wheel. In addition, Tesla’s software was also missing critical safeguards to limit a driver’s ability to use the Autopilot feature in conditions in which it is not safe for use. 


Who Can Be Held Responsible For an Automated Car Accident?

Determining who is responsible for an automated car accident is often very difficult. Laws on liability for self-driving car accidents do not exist yet, so it is typically decided on a case-by-case basis. Potentially liable parties include: 

Driver Liability

Many autonomous vehicles have software that alerts drivers when they must take over the wheel. If the driver fails to take over when warned to do so, they can be liable for a collision.  

Manufacturer Liability 

If a faulty program or glitch contributes to a car accident, the manufacturer of the vehicle or system could be held liable. For example, if the autopilot software fails to alert a driver quickly enough to avoid danger. 

A Third Party

If another driver was at fault for the collision, their insurance company might be responsible for damages. Additionally, a government entity may be liable if a preventable road condition caused or contributed to the accident. 

Since automated cars are currently meant to be assistive only, manufacturers may attempt to evade responsibility by claiming collisions are due to driver error. Therefore, a thorough investigation and solid evidence will be needed to hold them accountable.