Published on:

Waymo Robotaxis in Los Angeles – What Happens if They Crash?

Waymo-Taxi-Crash-Lawyer-Los-AngelesLos Angeles residents might have seen driverless cars being tested on the city’s streets over the past two years. These vehicles will likely become more common in LA because Waymo, the subsidiary of Google that provides driverless vehicles, has been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission to expand the company’s robotaxi services into Los Angeles. While driverless robotaxis will be allowed to transport passengers in LA soon, this development will likely lead to additional headaches when these vehicles crash and cause injuries.

Waymo Robotaxi Expansion Approved

According to the Los Angeles Times, Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Inc., was approved by regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission to begin operating driverless robotaxis in Los Angeles and San Mateo County. A company spokesperson said the vehicles will not initially begin driving on highways but will instead be operated on the streets.

Waymo was previously approved to operate robotaxi services in San Francisco, San Jose, and Phoenix, Arizona. As these driverless vehicles have become more common in those cities, multiple incidents have led to increasing concerns about their safety. A rival of Waymo, Cruise, which is a subsidiary of General Motors, was recently banned from continued operation of its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco following an incident in which one of its cars ran over a pedestrian after another vehicle struck them and then stopped with its tire and axle pinning the woman’s leg to the ground.

Opposition to the Deployment of Waymo’s Robotaxis in LA

Some local officials in Los Angeles are similarly opposed to Waymo’s impending driverless robotaxi services in the city, including Mayor Karen Bass. She wrote a letter in opposition to the move to the CPUC in Nov. 2023 and indicated that the city and its officials were not allowed to provide input into the deployment despite significant disruptions and harm.

The Los Angeles County Supervisor, Janice Hahn, also disagrees with the CPUC. She stated that robotaxis are relatively untested and the decision is dangerous. She argued that the decision by CPUC should have been informed by Los Angeles’s input rather than being made over officials’ objections.

While the CPUC granted Waymo’s request to expand its services into Los Angeles and San Mateo County, the agency didn’t state when it could begin its operations in those locations. Many leaders decry the decision because of safety concerns. The company’s robotaxi conducted a test in Los Angeles, which resulted in the vehicle’s failing to stop when signaled to do so by a traffic officer.

The concerns about Waymo’s expansion into LA come as worries about autonomous cars from all manufacturers have continued to increase. Self-driving vehicles have faced numerous safety concerns. In 2023, for example, Tesla recalled most of its vehicles because of a finding by regulators that its autopilot system was unsafe.

The testing process the company conducted in Los Angeles has been conducted over the past year. During an invite-only period, passengers were taxied around Los Angeles in the company’s driverless white Jaguar vehicles. Its approval in Los Angeles and San Mateo County will give Waymo access to a much larger territory to operate in than what it currently operates in Phoenix and San Francisco.

According to Peter Finn, the president of Teamsters Joint Council 7, Waymo was issued a recall recently following an incident in which two of its autonomous vehicles crashed into the same truck within minutes.

Waymo has been operating in San Francisco since 2021. In 2023, a report found that a Waymo vehicle operating in autonomous mode struck a dog and killed it, raising safety concerns. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation has called for more regulations before the robotaxis are deployed in the city, and they also want the disengagement protocols to be standardized. Currently, however, counties and municipalities do not have any say in whether these vehicles are deployed commercially within their jurisdictions.

Liability in a Autonomous Vehicle Crash

Driverless vehicles have been involved in numerous crashes since being tested. According to data reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Waymo vehicles had the highest number of crashes with 150 reported between 2021 and 2023. Cruise, its primary competitor, reported 78 crashes during the same two-year period.

When a driverless vehicle causes a collision, the police do not issue the car a ticket. By contrast, when two drivers are involved in an accident, an officer will typically investigate, determine fault, and issue a citation to one or both drivers. Insurance companies also investigate accidents to determine which party was at fault when assessing claims.

Liability for an autonomous vehicle crash is not yet defined, however. According to the Insurance Information Institute, insurance regulations and product liability laws will likely be changed to hold vehicle manufacturers of driverless cars liable when their components have defects that cause crashes. Currently, however, there isn’t a clear answer to whether the manufacturer of a driverless car is liable for an autonomous car crash or not.

Most car accidents involve two drivers with one or both being at fault. An injured car accident victim might file a negligence lawsuit against the driver who caused the collision through human error. However, if the vehicle doesn’t have a driver, such as a Waymo robotaxi, but it causes a crash while operating autonomously, it will be harder to determine the party responsible for paying for a victim’s injuries and other losses. However, if a component failed or a software defect led to the crash, the vehicle’s manufacturer or software developer might be liable instead of the driver.

Insurance Implications

All drivers in California must carry liability coverage that meets or exceeds the state’s minimum requirements. When a motorist causes an accident, their insurance policy pays for the injured party’s losses through this liability coverage. Since a driverless vehicle doesn’t have a driver, this will not be the case. Instead, other forms of insurance are necessary. Liability might shift to the vehicle manufacturer and third parties such as the software developer and hardware designer.

This might mean the manufacturers’ commercial liability insurance will be the source of payment rather than a driver’s liability coverage through their automobile insurance policy. More consistency in auto insurance laws is necessary with the increase in self-driving vehicles, including possibly mandating liability coverage for self-driving vehicles like the Waymo robotaxis.

In a crash involving a driverless robotaxi and another vehicle, insurance companies might have to rely on data from the electronic control modules of both vehicles rather than statements provided by a driver and witnesses. Determining what went wrong might require increased forensic investigation. It’s possible that laws could be drafted to shift the burden to the manufacturer of the driverless vehicles to prove its car didn’t cause the crash instead of the driver having to prove that the driverless vehicle caused it. Several manufacturers of autonomous vehicles have already stated they would accept responsibility if their autonomous vehicles are found to have caused collisions, including Google, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz.

Despite these assurances, filing claims against driverless car manufacturers like Google will still be difficult. Manufacturers and their insurance companies will likely strenuously litigate against injury claims, and victims will need to investigate the crashes, gather evidence, and show what contributed to the collision. Accident victims will need to negotiate their claims, present cases showing the existence of a defect and how it caused the crash, and present evidence of their damages.

A Waymo driverless car crash could also involve the liability of others besides the vehicle manufacturer, software developer, and designer. If another driver was also involved in the crash, they might share liability. Since liability issues will likely be difficult to determine in a driverless car crash, accident victims should seek legal help from a knowledgeable car accident lawyer.

Contact an Experienced Los Angeles Auto Accident Attorney

The increase in autonomous vehicles will likely lead to car crashes with unusual liability considerations. If you are injured in an accident with a Waymo or another type of semi-autonomous vehicle, you should speak to the attorneys at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC. Contact us for a free consultation by calling 866.966.5240.

Contact Information