Self-Driving Ambulances in Pennsylvania: Medical Innovation or Future Liability?

Soon, your rush to a Pennsylvania hospital might be driverless. Possible? Not just possible, but likely, according to a Pittsburgh expert in emergency medicine.

Autonomous Ambulances: Good for Patients?

As Uber tests self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, this question comes up: If self-driving cars, what about self-driving ambulances?

Dr. Paul Porter, Allegheny Health Network Emergency Medicine Physician, thinks self-driving ambulances are likely to happen sooner than later.

“I think it’s a question of not if, but when,” said Dr. Porter.

In fact, Dr. Porter thinks self-driving ambulances in Pennsylvania will be a plus for patient care. If an ambulance is self-driving, both paramedics will be free to help a patient rather than having one of them behind the wheel. Another benefit: a self-driving ambulance’s ability to pick the safest, quickest route.

Autonomous Ambulances: A New Avenue for Negligence?

Though self-driving ambulances could potentially help Pennsylvania patients, they could also lead to patient injuries. Last September, Google’s self-driving car crashed into a van while operating in its autonomous mode. And before that, a Google-branded self-driving car hit a public transit bus while attempting to navigate around a sandbag.

These crashes raise questions well beyond the safety of self-driving vehicles. There are also liability and negligence questions regarding who is to blame. For example, if a self-driving ambulance crashes, who is at fault?

  • The driver (even though the ambulance was driving itself);
  • The manufacturer; or
  • The software developer?

There are other questions, too—ones that go beyond accidental collisions and crashes. More troubling is the potential for software hacks. What happens if a self-driving ambulance is hacked and control is taken over by a hacker?

These liability and negligence questions have yet to be answered. However, late last year, the Department of Transportation (DOT) introduced several guidelines governing self-driving cars. These new guidelines, which stop short of official regulations, include:

  • A 15-point safety standard for autonomous vehicles
  • A request for uniformity among state policies
  • Clarification about how current regulations will be applied to driverless cars.


To learn more about our ability to protect the value of your medical malpractice lawsuit, contact a medical malpractice lawyer at Richards & Richards today.

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