In the next decade, humans will increasingly share the roads with autonomous vehicles (AVs). The deployment of AVs has the potential to dramatically reduce the frequency and severity of motor vehicle crashes. Existing liability rules give companies developing AVs insufficient incentives to develop that potential. Data from real-world autonomous driving indicates that today’s most advanced AVs rarely cause crashes, but often fail to avoid preventable crashes caused by other road users’ errors. A growing number of scholars have proposed reforms that would make it easier for plaintiffs injured in crashes with AVs to hold AV companies liable. These reform proposals either ignore the issue of comparative negligence or would preserve some form of the defense. If AV companies avoid liability for crashes in which a human road user was negligent, they will not invest in developing technology that could prevent those crashes. This Article proposes a solution: AV companies should be held responsible for all crashes in which their AVs come into contact with other vehicles, persons, or property – regardless of fault, cause, or comparative negligence. Contact responsibility would cause AV companies to internalize the costs of all preventable crashes and lead them to make all cost-justified investments in developing safer technology. Crashes would no longer be treated as regrettable but inevitable accidents, but as engineering problems to be solved.
Wansley, Matthew, The End of Accidents (March 30, 2021). 55 UC Davis Law Review (forthcoming 2021).