Drivers cause accidents, accidents cause injuries and injuries cause lawsuits.
But if the advent of autonomous vehicles means cars increasingly control themselves, who is liable when something goes bump?
That's a question for judges and lawyers, and a topic of widespread academic and policy interest as automakers ramp up plans for self-driving cars. The federal government is sponsoring legal research in the academic realm, and two symposiums in recent years -- one in 2012 in California and another last fall in Minnesota -- have focused on the legal implications of automated driving.
Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina, is an internationally recognized expert on the law of self-driving vehicles and taught the first-ever course on the topic. He's part of a new community of lawyers working on how to determine who's responsible for accidents involving self-driving vehicles.
"Managing this transition will be very complicated and will, I think, be a source of litigation," Smith said.
In a telephone interview with Automotive News correspondent Julie Halpert, he shared his perspective on a few scenarios that could unfold as autonomous vehicles become more mainstream: