Oscar Willhelm Nilsson claims he was riding his motorcycle in San Francisco when a model Cruise AV abruptly swerved into his lane of travel and struck him. The collision sent Nilsson to the ground and caused him significant shoulder injuries that have left him unable to work. He has since filed a claim citing “negligent driving” against General Motors (GM), the vehicle manufacturer. The Cruise AV was traveling in a self-driving mode when the accident occurred, with a driver that did not have his hands on the steering wheel. The San Francisco Police Department responded to the scene and found that Nilsson was actually at fault for the accident.
The police report specifically stated that Nilsson improperly attempted to pass the car. This is believed to be the first suit filed involving a vehicle operating autonomously. This model of vehicle is classified as “semi-autonomous”, meaning a driver is still responsible for overseeing the vehicle's movement.
Self-driving vehicles are rapidly entering the market and are touted as being able to significantly reduce the volume of car accidents, and the injuries and fatalities that occur. According to data from The California Department of Motor Vehicles, there have been 54 accidents thus far involving self-driving vehicles, most of which have been minor.
The extent of manufacturer liability for collisions caused by autonomous vehicles is still unknown. Bryant Walker Smith, a professor of law at the University of Southern California, feels that in the future when crashes of this kind happen, it will more likely be the result of human error. He thinks that investigators will be tasked with determining whether the automated vehicle system responded in a manner that a reasonable person would have based on the same circumstances. The availability of data in these accidents should be increasingly more abundant with recordings from vehicles and the infrastructure that will exist in the coming years.
GM disagrees with Nilsson's description of what caused this accident. Their version essentially states that the motorcycle had just emerged from splitting through vehicles in adjacent lanes and was traveling at approximately 17 miles per hour when it struck the Cruise AV. The flow of traffic at the time was estimated to be 12 mph. A GM spokesperson says the company is very focused on the safety in the development of their self-driving vehicle systems.
GM recently announced that they have requested permission from the Department of Transportation to deploy additional self-driving vehicles. The new fourth-generation of the Chevy Bolt EV does not have a steering wheel or pedals. It is designed to exclusively be operated by the vehicle's operating system. GM explained that this will be the first “production-ready vehicle” designed for operation without the need for the presence of a driver.
Similar vehicles are currently engaged in testing in California and Arizona by several companies. Newcomers in the self-driving vehicle market include Zoox and Waymo, companies that have fairly developed autonomous vehicle systems.