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UPS buys interest in self-driving truck company

UPS, a long-time supporter of transportation technologies, has jumped on the automated driving bandwagon, with an investment into autonomous trucks. The investment was with TuSimple, which is test-driving tractor-trailers to see if the invention can improve the efficiency of UPS transportation services. These tucks are considered level 4, which means the onboard computer system will be in control at all times during transportation, though current laws regulating these vehicles require that a driver be present and able to take over operations if needed.

Why the need for automated trucking services?

During peak season, UPS often hires third-party trucking services to be able to accommodate the additional packages. The partnership with TuSimple is believed to be able to reduce these costs by up to 30 percent. The new technology is expected to not only help UPS improve fuel efficiency but also customer satisfaction as well.

What does the use of automated trucking mean for company liability?

With the new technology also comes a growing concern for liability in the event an accident occurs when the technology is being utilized. Since drivers are only there as a fail-safe in the event the technology fails to respond appropriately, many people are left wondering who will be held responsible for accidents and how. Where auto insurance once would cover all types of vehicle accidents, more insurance companies are pushing to develop specialized automobile policies that cover automated vehicles or using business liability insurance instead of auto insurance to cover damages.

This is primarily due to determining where the fault lies. In most cases, automobile accidents will find one driver more at fault, as their actions were considered more likely to have caused the vehicle accident. With autonomous driving, the fault is more likely to lie with defects in the car or the technology. Insurance companies are also considering no-fault policies which would better cover these types of accidents, especially if more automated vehicles are on the road.

How could liability be imposed in an automated vehicle accident?

When an accident occurs, many people will look for who should be held responsible for the damage that was caused. Liability could be imposed in a number of ways, including:

  • The vehicle operator: In some cases, the operator who has engaged the autonomous technology or failed to respond to its failure appropriately could be held liable for damages in the accident. This would make the business responsible due to their employee error.
  • The vehicle manufacturer: In some instances, the liability may fall under the umbrella of product liability, which makes the manufacturer who installed the autonomous technology liable.
  • The company that created the technology: Another option would be placing liability with the software company that is responsible for creating the technology that was installed in the autonomous vehicle.

If a claim is treated as a product liability claim, it can take significantly longer to settle, and the company being held liable can counter that the product was misused or that the driver or passenger interfered with the technology resulting in the injury. For example, a company may claim that a driver could have altered the vehicle or disregarded the directions when using the technology, that resulted in its failure. One thing is for certain as automated technology continues to grow and is more widely implemented, determining liability will become more critical than ever.

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