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Car Accidents Involving Self-Driving Cars – Who’s Liable

As self-driving cars drive off the test lot and onto the streets, drivers, accident victims, and vehicle manufacturers alike wonder who is going to bear responsibility for accidents involving autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles are projected to reduce common car accident injuries and deaths drastically. But autonomous cars are not going to eliminate accidents especially as drivers slowly transition to autonomous vehicles as a mode of transportation. Who’s liable for an accident involving a self-driving car?

Who’s Liable for an Accident Involving a Self-Driving Car in Texas?

In Texas, the owner of the self-driving car is liable for traffic violations that occur with their vehicle. The owner of the vehicle may receive a traffic ticket for a traffic violation that happens even if the owner isn’t in the vehicle when the violation occurs.

However, the car owner may not be liable under Texas civil negligence law. Texas law is still unsettled as to who is responsible for self-driving car accidents. Owners, drivers, and vehicle manufacturers may all share liability when an accident occurs that involves an autonomous vehicle.

Liability for Self-Driving Car Accidents in Texas

The general rule for traditional cars is that a driver bears liability for an accident if their negligent actions lead to the crash. The driver must show some measure of carelessness or recklessness to be responsible for the victim’s injuries. However, in the case of an autonomous vehicle, a crash can occur without any wrongdoing on the part of the vehicle driver. The victim may not be able to show that the accident occurs because of a driving error on the part of the autonomous vehicle owner or driver.


Texas and other states have not yet determined how the dust settles to impose liability when an accident involves a self-driving vehicle. The vehicle manufacturer may face liability because they made a design or manufacturing error that causes the vehicle to malfunction in a way that leads to a crash. This type of liability that holds manufacturers accountable for the products they make is called products liability. On the other hand, attention may turn to the vehicle owner for any errors that they make in maintaining or engaging their vehicle’s software system. While, the legislature or the courts may eventually choose to extend liability to the person in charge of the vehicle at the time of the crash, at this time, the legal framework is not in place to hold autonomous vehicle owners strictly liable for accidents caused by their cars.

Who Is the Driver of an Autonomous Vehicle in Texas?

Texas is one of a handful of states that devotes a portion of its motor vehicle code to autonomous vehicles. The general rule under Texas Transportation Code Title 7, 541.001 defines the operator of a vehicle as the person who drives or has physical control of the vehicle.

The operator is the human, natural person who controls the entire driving task. However, Texas law 545.454 says that in the case of an autonomous vehicle, the vehicle’s owner is considered the operator for determining compliance with traffic laws. Under Texas law, even if the vehicle’s owner is not physically in the vehicle, it’s the owner who may receive the ticket.

What Does Texas Law Say About Autonomous Vehicles?

Texas laws about autonomous vehicles include:

  • The vehicle’s owner is responsible if a traffic violation occurs
  • The automated driving system is licensed to operate the vehicle – a licensed driver is not required
  • A self-driving car may operate with no human in the vehicle
  • Each car must have a recording device
  • All vehicles must comply with federal and state safety standards
  • A self-driving car must be registered to operate lawfully
  • Self-driving cars must have required insurance
  • It’s unclear who bears civil responsibility for victims injured in self-driving car accidents, but owners, drivers, and vehicle manufacturers may all face liability

Liability for Self-Driving Car Accidents – Working With Self-Driving Car Accident Attorneys in Texas

Who bears liability for your injuries in a self-driving car accident in Texas likely depends on the circumstances of the crash. Did the accident occur because the vehicle’s owner made a critical error in engaging or maintaining their vehicle and software system? The vehicle owner may be liable.

Should the vehicle manufacturer have done a better job designing their system without glitches or was there an error in the production process? The vehicle manufacturer may be liable. Even an operator may be responsible if they take careless action that results in the accident. The person who ultimately bears responsibility for a self-driving car accident in Texas is likely dependent on the exact circumstances that are present leading up to the crash. If you have been hurt in an accident involving a self-driving vehicle, an experienced attorney for self-driving car accidents in Texas can help you determine liability and assert your claim.

Author bio: Jack Bernstein is a Miami, Florida car accident lawyer with over 36 years of experience helping victims get compensation for their injuries. 

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

About This Blog

The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

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