The Impact of Autonomous Vehicles on Automotive Product Liability In Colorado

The introduction of autonomous vehicles is set to disrupt the automotive industry and bring major changes to transportation and mobility. While self-driving cars promise numerous benefits like increased safety and convenience, they also raise new legal questions around liability in the event of a collision or accident. This article examines how the rise of autonomous vehicles may impact automotive product liability laws and regulations, specifically in Colorado.

What Are Autonomous Vehicles?

Self-driving automobiles, also referred to as autonomous or driverless vehicles, have the capacity to detect their surroundings and steer themselves without human operation. They utilize a suite of technologies such as radar, lidar, global positioning systems, and computer vision algorithms to enable independent control of steering, acceleration, and braking.

There are different levels of vehicle automation defined by SAE International:

  • Level 0 – No Automation: The driver is in complete control at all times.
  • Level 1 – Driver Assistance: The vehicle has automated driver assistance features like cruise control.
  • Level 2 – Partial Automation: The vehicle has combined automated features like adaptive cruise control and lane centering. The driver must remain engaged.
  • Level 3 – Conditional Automation: The vehicle can drive itself under certain conditions. The driver must be ready to take over.
  • Level 4 – High Automation: The vehicle can drive itself in most circumstances without human input.
  • Level 5 – Full Automation: The vehicle can perform all driving tasks in all conditions autonomously.

Most autonomous vehicles currently in development are aiming for Level 4/5 automation.

The Potential Impact of Autonomous Vehicles on Automotive Liability

When a collision occurs today, liability generally falls on the driver who was in control of the vehicle at the time. But when vehicles are capable of driving themselves, questions arise over who is at fault in the event of a crash.

If autonomous vehicles become widespread, it could significantly alter automotive liability and insurance rules. Some key considerations include:

  • Product liability – If an autonomous vehicle crashes due to a defect, error, or malfunction in the technology, the automaker or tech company could face increased product liability claims. Plaintiffs may allege that the self-driving system was negligently designed.
  • Data privacy – The vast amount of data stored by autonomous vehicles could become an issue in lawsuits. Plaintiffs may seek access to data logs and algorithms to prove when a system failed. New privacy protections may be needed.
  • Insurance shifts – Automakers and tech companies may shoulder more insurance costs and risks for autonomous vehicles, rather than individual car owners. However, there are still debates about if and when this shift may occur.
  • New regulations – As autonomous technology advances, federal and state lawmakers are working to update liability and insurance rules. New laws allocating fault could aim to balance responsibility between manufacturers and drivers.
  • Mixed fleets – During the transition period when autonomous and human-driven vehicles share the roads, liability questions around crashes become more complex. Laws will need to adapt.

How Colorado is Addressing Autonomous Vehicle Liability

In 2017, Colorado passed SB17-213 to provide some liability protections for autonomous vehicle operators. The law states that:

  • In a crash, the autonomous vehicle’s operator is not liable due to the autonomous technology alone. Other forms of negligence can still apply.
  • If the vehicle fails to comply with a traffic law or regulation, the violation will be attributed to the autonomous system rather than the operator.
  • Manufacturers must disclose autonomous capabilities to buyers. The vehicle must have a way to engage and disengage the system.

However, the law does not specifically resolve questions of liability between autonomous vehicle manufacturers and drivers. The state legislature continues to evaluate regulatory updates to keep pace with evolving technologies.

Colorado also allows autonomous vehicle testing and currently has no special insurance requirements for self-driving cars. However, ongoing discussions may lead to new insurance rules tailored for autonomous vehicles.

The Future of Driving and Liability

The rollout of autonomous vehicles in Colorado will continue gradually over the coming decade. As self-driving cars become more widespread, regulators will aim to balance safety, innovation, and responsibility.

For now, human drivers operating vehicles with driver assistance features should remain attentive and understand the proper use of the technology. But eventually, autonomous capabilities may shift liability burdens away from individual drivers toward manufacturers and tech companies.

Close partnerships between the tech and automotive industries, lawmakers, insurance providers, and the public will be key to successfully integrating self-driving vehicles onto Colorado’s roadways while protecting consumers.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident that wasn’t your fault, contact our experienced attorneys at Monge & Associates to evaluate your case and options. With offices in 32 locations in 19 states, including Colorado, Georgia, and Missouri, our team has years of experience helping injured victims recover damages. Contact us today for a free consultation on (888) 477-0597.