Who is to blame for crashes involving autonomous vehicles? Exploring blame attribution across the road transport system

Elin Pöllänen, Gemma J.M. Read, Ben R. Lane, Jason Thompson, Paul M. Salmon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The introduction of fully autonomous vehicles is approaching. This warrants a re-consideration of road crash liability, given drivers will have diminished control. This study, underpinned by attribution theory, investigated blame attribution to different road transport system actors following crashes involving manually driven, semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles. It also examined whether outcome severity alters blame ratings. 396 participants attributed blame to five actors (vehicle driver/user, pedestrian, vehicle, manufacturer, government) in vehicle–pedestrian crash scenarios. Different and unique patterns of blame were found across actors, according to the three vehicle types. In crashes involving fully autonomous vehicles, vehicle users received low blame, while vehicle manufacturers and government were highly blamed. There was no difference in the level of blame attributed between high and low severity crashes regarding vehicle type. However, the government received more blame in high severity crashes. The findings have implications for policy and legislation surrounding crash liability. Practitioner summary: Public views relating to blame and liability in transport accidents is a vital consideration for the introduction of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles. This study demonstrates how a systems ergonomics framework can assist to identify the implications of changing public opinion on blame for future road transport systems. Abbreviation: ANOVA: analysis of variance; DAT: defensive attribution theory; IV: independent variable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)525-537
Number of pages13
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


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