Bass, Berry & Sims attorneys Jessie Zeigler and Jeremy Gunn authored an article for Industry Today discussing the litigation landscape for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles as the technology works toward safer roads but is still confronted with accidents and injuries.

The level of automation in an autonomous vehicle ranges from SAE Level 0 (no driving automation) to Level 5 (full driving automation), and many vehicles today use Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and a few states currently allow manufacturers to test vehicles equipped with Levels 3 through 5, called Advanced Driving Systems (ADS), that permit artificial intelligence technology to actually operate driverless vehicles.

As technology advances through these levels, the federal government has issued voluntary guidance to states and other auto industry stakeholders through its Automated Vehicles series aimed at streamlining the regulatory process so that manufacturers and industry leaders have the flexibility to innovate without getting bogged down in regulations before testing and deploying vehicles. While this has cut down on red tape, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration still enforces safety standards and recalls for defective vehicles, opening the door for potential liability at the federal level even in states allow more flexibility.

“Most states assign liability to the motorist driving the vehicle when ADAS is engaged since this technology only supports drivers,” the authors said in a discussion on who might be held liable in a driverless crash. “This paradigm shifts, however, in the few states that have taken the lead on testing fully autonomous vehicles equipped with ADS technology.” California, for instance, has a program that permits manufacturers to test Level 3 to Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles on public roads and requires auto makers to have at least $5 million in insurance and the ability to satisfy judgments for damages from accidents caused by autonomous vehicles.

Ultimately, manufacturers are likely to face lawsuits in accidents involving autonomous vehicles, largely because federal regulations have not been adopted to preempt liability related to certain vehicles and driver-assisted technologies. While plaintiffs are likely to use crash data collected by the federal government to show that manufacturers knew certain accidents were foreseeable, the auto manufacturers should consider using crash data and telemetry data to create an action plan to spot trends and fix latent defects in ADAS and ADS technology.

“In the event of litigation, manufacturers should consider the state of the art defense to show that a manufacturer considered the state of the art scientific and technical knowledge when creating new technologies and vehicles,” Jessie and Jeremy concluded. “As always, paying close attention to the evolving regulatory environment and continuing to improve vehicle technology will mitigate the risk of lawsuits.”

The full article, “Autonomous Vehicle  Regulatory and Litigation Landscape,” was published by Industry Today on December 19 and is available online.