Self-Driving Car Criminal Lawyer Cody Warner Discusses Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to fundamentally change transportation across the globe. In addition to reducing traffic-related fatalities, autonomous vehicles may reduce traffic congestion caused by human error and allow people to be more productive during their commutes. Although fully autonomous vehicles are not yet available to the public, the technology continues to improve, and cars are becoming more and more autonomous. However, these cars are not perfect, and fatal accidents have occurred. Prosecutors have charged drivers with serious crimes for not properly paying attention while driving autonomous cars.

Cody Warner is a self-driving car criminal lawyer and Tesla owner who closely follows all developments with autonomous vehicles and understands the defenses available when a person is arrested for crimes involving a self-driving car. If you have been charged with a crime related to driving a self-driving car, Cody can develop the best defense strategy for your case.

Levels of Autonomy

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) developed an autonomous vehicle classification system that is widely used across the industry to measure the capabilities of a car’s driving automation system.

Level 0: No Automation

A Level 0 vehicle is fully driven by the driver, who must manually control all aspects of the vehicle’s movement, including steering, accelerating, braking, parking, and any other maneuver needed to move the vehicle. The first cars ever made, for instance a Model T Ford, have Level 0 autonomy.

Level 1: Driver Assistance

A Level 1 vehicle features one automated feature that assists the driver. Most often, a Level 1 vehicle has adaptive cruise control, which allows the vehicle to automatically slow down and speed up to keep a safe distance behind a car in traffic. Level 1 cars have existed for several decades.

Level 2: Partial Driving Automation

A Level 2 vehicle has an advanced driving assistance system (ADAS), which can control steering, acceleration, and braking in certain conditions, typically when the vehicle is on a highway. When driving a Level 2 vehicle, a driver must remain alert to take control of the vehicle if conditions change and the ADAS turns off. Many cars produced over the last decade have Level 2 autonomy, such as all Tesla cars that have Autopilot.

Level 3: Conditional Driving Automation

A Level 3 vehicle can, in many conditions, manage all aspects of driving. A human driver must be present, alert, and capable of taking over control of the vehicle in the event it encounters a scenario it cannot navigate. Several manufacturers are beginning to release Level 3 systems to the public, including Honda’s SENSING Elite, Mercedes’ EQS, and Tesla’s Full-Self Driving (currently in Beta mode).

Level 4: High Driving Automation

A Level 4 vehicle can manage all aspects of driving within a certain geographic area. Within that area, human intervention is not required, as the system is programmed to safely stop in the event of a system failure. Therefore, such vehicles can exist without a steering wheel or pedals. The geographic area is limited, though, so current level 4 initiatives focus on robotaxis in cities and campuses.

Level 5: Full Driving Automation

Level 5 vehicles have the ultimate level of autonomy and can be driven anywhere in the world without human intervention. No steering wheel or pedals are needed, and the driver can sleep or otherwise ignore the road while the vehicle is driving. Although Level 5 vehicles are not currently available for the public, some companies, such as Waymo, are testing Level 5 technology.

 

If you have been arrested for a crime related to driving a car that has automation between SAE Levels 1 – 5, contact autonomous vehicle criminal attorney Cody Warner, who can analyze your case and determine the best path forward.

Self-Driving Cars in New York

In 2017, the New York State Legislature enacted legislation that established a process by which developers of self-driving car technology can apply for permitting to test autonomous vehicles in New York.

In 2021, the New York City Department of Transportation adopted rules that regulate the testing of self-driving cars within New York City.

These laws established by New York State and New York City are solely for companies that are involved in the development of autonomous vehicle technology—chiefly companies pursuing Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy. Since these laws are directed towards companies, regular drivers who purchase vehicles with Levels 1, 2, and 3 of autonomy are not required to obtain self-driving car permits to operate their cars.

Criminal Liability for Self-Driving Vehicles

As cars reach higher levels of autonomy, the liability for accidents with self-driving cars will shift from the human driver to the car manufacturer and autonomous software designer.

Absent a manufacturing defect, it’s easy to attribute blame to a human driver for an accident involving a car with Levels 0 and 1 of autonomy, because the car has limited, if any, control of its operation.

Conversely, when cars have Levels 4 and 5 of autonomy and don’t even require steering wheels, it’s easy to attribute blame to the car manufacturer or software designer, because the human has limited, if any, control over the operation of the car.

However, for cars that have Level 2—and especially Level 3—autonomy, liability for an accident can be very uncertain. When both the driver and the car have an active role in the operation of the car, who is responsible for an accident?

Prosecutors around the country have demonstrated a willingness to attribute blame to the drivers. Even in instances where the autonomous technology objectively failed, prosecutors have charged drivers with serious criminal offenses, such as vehicular manslaughter, after drivers in self-driving cars are involved in accidents. As more Level 2 and 3 vehicles are produced and enter our roadways, more crashes will occur, and prosecutors will continue to charge people.

If you have been charged with a crime related to driving an autonomous vehicle, self-driving criminal lawyer Cody Warner can assess your case to determine the extent of your criminal liability and develop the best defense strategy for your case.

Criminal Liability in New York for Self-Driving Cars

In New York, prosecutors have many ways to charge drivers of self-driving cars that are involved in accidents.

Manslaughter in the Second Degree

A person commits Manslaughter in the Second Degree (P.L. 125.15) when he recklessly causes the death of another person. Manslaughter in the Second Degree is a class C felony and carries a potential sentence of up to fifteen years in prison or more if you have been convicted of a felony within the last 10 years.

Under New York law, a person acts recklessly with respect to a result or to a circumstance when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. If the prosecution believes you recklessly caused the death of another person while operating a self-driving car, then you could be charged with Manslaughter in the Second Degree.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

A person commits Criminally Negligent Homicide (P.L. 125.10) when, with criminal negligence, he causes the death of another person. Criminally Negligent Homicide is a class E felony and carries a potential sentence of four years in prison or more if you have been convicted of a felony within the last ten years.

Under New York law, a person acts with criminal negligence with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. If the prosecution believes you caused the death of another person with criminal negligence while operating a self-driving car, then you could be charged with Criminally Negligent Homicide.

Reckless Driving

A person commits reckless driving (V.T.L. 1212) when he operates a motor vehicle in a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway, or unreasonably endangers users of the public highway. Reckless Driving is a misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail.

 

If you have been charged with a crime related to driving an autonomous vehicle, self-driving criminal lawyer Cody Warner can analyze your charges and develop the best defense strategy for your case.

Defenses for Crimes Involving Self-Driving Cars

Although many defenses may exist for a person charged with a crime involving a self-driving car, several unique factors must thoroughly be evaluated with self-driving car cases to develop the most comprehensive defense strategy. These include the vehicular data, the representations made by the manufacturer, the training provided by the manufacturer, and automation complacency.

Data in self-driving cars are numerous.  Self-driving cars contain an Event Data Recorder (EDR), which records many data points before, during, and after a crash, such as accelerator position, vehicle speed, acceleration/deceleration value, brake engagement, and more. Self-driving cars also generate telematic log data. These data can overlap the data recorded by an EDR but often contains more information. Further, self-driving cars typically use many cameras, both in the cabin of the car and the exterior of the car. A self-driving car criminal lawyer can obtain and scrutinize all data after an accident to determine the extent to which the car malfunctioned and was the cause of the accident.

The representations made by the manufacturer can affect whether the driver was reckless or criminally negligent when operating a car made by that manufacturer. Does the company market its vehicle as capable of going from point A to point B without any intervention? Does the CEO tweet that its vehicle can fully self-drive? A 2020 study by AAA found that consumer reliance on identical autonomous driving technology was significantly different depending on whether the technology was marketed as Autonodrive or DriveAssist. The totality of the representations made by the manufacturer can affect whether the driver believed he was properly operating the car, which informs whether he was reckless or criminally negligent when he drove the car.

The training provided by the manufacturer can affect whether the driver was reckless or criminally negligent when driving a car made by that manufacturer. Does the manufacturer provide detailed training videos that demonstrate how to use the autonomous technology? Was the driver following the given instructions? Must the driver fully watch the videos before access to the technology is granted? Does the dealership provide training? If, due to inadequate training from the manufacturer, the driver mistakenly believed that he was properly driving the car when an accident occurred, the driver may not have been reckless or criminally negligent.

Driver complacency—and the manufacturer’s design efforts to reduce complacency—can affect whether the driver was reckless or criminally negligent when driving the car. Studies have demonstrated that people naturally become less engaged when driving autonomous cars. Consequently, if a self-driving car exits autonomous mode due to a hazard that is hard to navigate, a person may react too slowly to avoid a collision. Does the manufacturer use sufficient protocols to reduce this natural phenomenon? Does the vehicle monitor the driver’s eyes and provide prompt a warning if the driver is not following the road? Does the vehicle provide sufficient notice when it disengages from autonomous mode? If an accident occurs, did it occur under conditions that the car typically handles autonomously without issue? If the driver’s conduct was reasonable—despite possible complacency—the driver may not have been reckless or criminally negligent when operating the vehicle.

If you have been charged with a crime related to driving an autonomous car, self-driving criminal lawyer Cody Warner can analyze your charges and develop the best defense strategy for your case. Contact Cody today to learn more information.