With more autonomous or “self-driving” cars expected to hit the road, even a bicyclist deciding to take a break and start walking with his or her bike could turn into a dangerous situation. 

Moving at 43.5 mph with its human operator watching a show streamed on her mobile phone, an autonomous vehicle hit a 49-year-old woman while she pushed her bicycle across a street at about 10 p.m. As reported by NBC News, the car’s automated sensors could not accurately determine in time that she was crossing the street before striking her. 

Confused vehicle sensors 

The vehicle reportedly had problems classifying a detected moving object as either a “vehicle,” “bicycle” or an “other.” When the vehicle correctly determined the situation required applying its brakes, it was too late. The operator inside the vehicle did not respond quickly enough to grab the controls and avoid the collision which resulted in the woman’s tragic death. 

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation revealed the vehicle’s engineers did not design the car’s software to recognize that a human being may cross the street at areas other than designated crosswalks. 

The liability issue 

As noted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and reported by Computerworld, the party held liable for damages in accidents caused by autonomous vehicles will most likely fall on the human operator inside the car. 

Although circumstances may vary, the argument presented may center on the need for the human driver to remain alert and engaged at all times. What may convince a jury is that the owner of a self-driving car, by his or her purchase of the vehicle, accepts responsibility for operating the car and its software in a safe manner. 

Legal action to recover 

When a self-driving car collides with a bicycle or its rider walking alongside it, there is a violation of the duty of care not to jeopardize the safety of others on the roadway. A cyclist injured or killed by an autonomous vehicle may be cause for a legal action initiated by the struck individual or his or her family. The compensation received may help recover from the harm and damages suffered.