Over recent years, developments in technology have brought self-driving vehicles out of the world of science fiction and onto the highways. Large companies like Google, Volvo, and BMW have already announced that they plan to have autonomous vehicles on the market within the next decade. Companies like the ridesharing service Uber are already working to implement the technology in their vehicles, including their self-driving trucks that are on the road, doing important work.
Although this new method of trucking is still in the testing and developmental phases, the movement of the trucking industry toward automated driving raises interesting and relevant questions about liability in the case of accidents.
Currently, the liability of commercial truck accidents is subject to the situation. Commercial trucks are used to transport commercial goods that are often incredibly massive. Because the trucks have to be large enough to haul loads that are generally extremely heavy, they have a much higher potential for damage should they be involved in any accidents. This also affects their liability.
Companies that use commercial trucks may employ their drivers directly. If so, they will usually supervise their employees and their actions thoroughly because the company is likely to be held liable for the damages created as the result of an accident involving their trucks and drivers.
Other companies may employ their drivers as contractors. Because these drivers are not directly employed by the company, the company utilizing the commercial vehicles will be less likely to be held liable for the contracted drivers.
Additionally, there are situations unique to large trucks that may be involved in accidents. The most common example is what is known as jackknifing. This is when the driver of a commercial truck brakes and stops appropriately, but the trailer they are hauling continues to turn and move because of its own weight and the conditions of the road. In these types of situations, they driver will generally not be found to be negligent and this will further influence who can be held liable.
In terms of self-driving trucks, there is not a lot to go on at this point. The companies who are working to develop these technologies have stated that, in the event of an accident that is proven to occur as a result of their technologies, they will assume full liability. This same type of liability assumption will most likely extend to other self-driving vehicles as well.
As autonomous vehicle technology develops and improves, it will become more and more commonplace on our roads. Theoretically, the diminished presence of human drivers on the road will actually make the driving environment safer, as the human element has been shown to be the greatest risk factor when operating a vehicle. Even so, if you find yourself with any questions regarding an accident involving a self-driving truck, you will want to contact a legal professional who is knowledgeable in the area so they can offer guidance and assistance.