While a majority of the progress and planning regarding Apple’s first self-driving car has been kept secret, every now and then we get a quick glimpse as to what the tech titan has been up to. Through paperwork filed with the DMV, it’s been divulged that an autonomous vehicle of theirs was recently driving in the San Francisco Bay Area when it was rear-ended. The crash occurred by human error, and it was the driver of the other vehicle’s fault.
The DMV filing reveals that Apple’s test car was traveling autonomously (moving slower than 1 mph) and a 2016 Nissan Leaf hit it from behind (traveling at about 15 mph). Apple’s test car was yielding to a great deal of incoming traffic as it waited to merge safely onto Lawrence Expressway.
Consumer Affairs has reported that the instances of self-driving cars being hit by a human driver from behind are increasing. According to Dr. Koopman, a software engineer at Carnegie Mellon, it could be attributed to the fact that self-driving technology operates more carefully than humans tend to drive. For example, autonomous vehicles built by Waymo stop prior to turning, merging or crossing an intersection, and of course for pedestrians. Human drivers sometimes don’t obey traffic laws and at times have been found to go faster when they should be braking.
Autonomous vehicle manufacturers will need to consider the differences in how vehicles around them operate since self-driving vehicles share the streets with human-driven cars, at least for now. Fortunately, there were no injuries in the collision with the Apple vehicle, but both cars did sustain damage.
This brings up an important point: Which party is responsible if an autonomous car is damaged in a collision?
Self-driving cars and software engineers receive data collected by sensors that demonstrate how the vehicle acted while the crash occurred. This data can reveal whether or not it was functioning correctly, but the car may not have been able to avoid being rear-ended.
While nothing has been set in stone, there are initial expectations that the prevalent use of autonomous cars will translate to fewer accidents, and some degree of liability will swing from the drivers of the cars to the manufacturers.
“When compared with the state of the current vehicle industry, the autonomous vehicle industry will probably need to take on the responsibility of collision damage costs. However, it’s expected that fewer accidents would occur if the majority of cars on the road were self-driving,” remarked Jason Hennessey, marketing consultant for a car accident attorney in Houston.
Autonomous cars can’t become frustrated angry, tired, or intoxicated. However, they also can’t respond to unclear and potentially dangerous scenarios with a similar ability that people can which means the question of liability is to be determined by the state in which the accident occurred.
Individual states are responsible for determining self-driving car insurance and liability policies, according to the American Federal Automated Vehicles Policy published last year.