Autonomous (“self-driving”) cars are a relatively new phenomenon. Typical car accident liability and vehicle safety standards are clear, but there are still many questions concerning liability and safety when it comes to self-driving cars. Below, we will explore current driverless car regulations and safety concerns and how Steinberg Injury Lawyers can assist you. 

Regulations of Self Driving Cars

There are no federal driverless car safety, deployment, or liability standards. Many states have enacted their own regulations regarding driverless car manufacturers and owners in light of this void of national direction. 

Defining California's regulations when it comes to autopilot

In 2018, California amended the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program, allowing manufacturers to test driverless cars without a human in the car. Since then, some manufacturers have been approved for deployment. Manufacturers must adhere to strict reporting guidelines and safety regulations. In total, there are not many driverless cars on the road right now, but as the technology improves and the prices come down, you can expect to see the number of autopilot vehicles skyrocket. 

Liability for Autonomous Car Accidents: Human vs Manufacturer 

California is a “fault” state that adheres to comparative negligence laws. Usually, you can seek damages from the driver that caused the accident in proportion to how much they were at fault. However, with driverless cars, it’s not that simple. 


Whether the car has autopilot or not, drivers who engage in negligent acts (i.e., speeding, running red lights, etc.) that cause an accident are held liable for injuries and damages. In some states, the car’s owner can potentially be responsible if the vehicle was driven with their consent. In California, even if the driver wasn’t driving, and it was operating under self-driving mode, if the driver gave the vehicle consent, then the driver can be held responsible. Technically, the “driver” becomes the operator, which California defines as the person who is in the driver's seat or turns on the autonomous functions.

California Vehicle Code 38750 states that self-driving vehicles are required to have a safety alert system to let the operator know if the autonomous technology is failing. Operators have to be able to regain full control of the self-driving vehicle’s brake, accelerator, and steering wheel. If the operator doesn’t regain control if there is an emergency, the test driver can be held responsible.



Some states have created laws to address manufacturer liability specifically. Those laws deem the autopilot system to be the driver, which means that it is held liable for any accidents it causes. For this reason, manufacturers must assume fault for any collisions that are caused by the automated driving system. 


However, under California’s laws for product liability, any company that constructs, sells, or manufactures a defective product is liable for any injuries that were caused by the product. Product liability for autonomous vehicles could include manufacturing defects, design defects, or the inability or failure to warn. Plaintiffs are not responsible for proving that the company was negligent, only that the vehicle is or was dangerous.

Uncertainty of the Self-Driving Car Future

Though companies like Tesla have logged millions of miles on the road with autonomous vehicles, the future of self-driving cars is still uncertain. Since they are new to society, there are limited regulations that can cause issues for drivers and accident victims alike. 

Why This is Important to a Case

This is important because it is still difficult to determine responsibility in car accident cases. Though the manufacturer is technically liable for autopilot issues, the government does not currently have enough data to always determine precisely what  “fault” means. 

It could mean a flaw in the design, development process, sensors, etc. Experts and your California self-driving car accident attorney will need to examine the vehicle’s data recorder in many cases.

How having a lawyer who is up to date on the ever-changing regulations 

With regulations changing so rapidly, it is essential to work with a Tesla accident attorney with up to date knowledge on the law. Otherwise, you run the risk of manufacturers taking advantage of you, lowball compensation offers, or being accused of causing an accident that you had no control over. 

What We Know About Autonomous Auto Accidents Today 

There is not much data available regarding self-driving car accidents. The main reason for this is because they simply don’t happen that often. A recent study found that more than 90 percent of autonomous vehicle accidents were due to human error. It can be argued that technology is not yet fully understood, so the blame goes to the human by default. Nonetheless, the data suggests that it can be an uphill battle to prove the manufacturer is at fault. 

Statistics on states with regulations

More than 29 states have enacted legislation regarding autonomous vehicles. Unfortunately, many of these laws are not uniform or comprehensive. They tend to leave many grey areas, which can make determining fault in a self-driving car accident even more difficult without a self-driving automobile accident attorney. 

Previous cases of self-driving car accidents 

There have been a few notable self-driving car accidents in the news over the last half-decade such as:

  • 2016 driverless Tesla runs into an 18-wheeler

  • 2018 Tesla in autopilot runs into a disabled car on the highway going 80 mph 

  • 2017 Chevrolet Bolt in autopilot mode crashed into a motorcyclist 

  • 2019 driver fatality while autopilot was engaged in a Tesla 

The Accident Attorneys at Steinberg Injury Lawyers Are Here to Help

Proving fault in a self-driving car accident case can be difficult without the help of a proven autonomous vehicle accident attorney. At Steinberg Injury Lawyers, we know how to build a successful self-driving car accident claim. We understand current regulations and stay up-to-date on legislation passed. If you have been injured in a self-driving vehicle accident, you don’t have to fight the manufacturers alone. Give us a call today at 1-800-350-8888 or contact us online for your free, initial consultation. 

Peter Steinberg
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Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Since 1982