We are moving further into a futuristic world of technology and artificial intelligence, which ranges from Siri telling us about traffic we will face on our journey to work to the self-driving cars that are being tested before making their way onto our roads. Bosch, Google, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Volkswagen and famously Tesla have been trialling automated vehicles (AV’s) in the USA since 2013. The UK plans to have AVs on its roads by 2020 with a reported £8bn boost to the UK economy as more people can work more on the move and people with limited mobility are able to commute to places of work with ease.
A precursor to AVs has resulted in many new cars having increased safety features, from autonomous emergency braking to on-board cameras and sensors, meaning the number of road traffic accidents caused by human error should decrease.
However, the amount of personal injury claims involving road traffic accidents remains high. With these developments, the legal profession faces questions once only asked in sci-fi: what happens when the machines get it wrong? Who is responsible for these cars: the person behind the steering wheel, the AV manufacturer, or the AV coder? What happens when “Siri” crashes the car?
The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is the UK Government’s aim to make the transition to AV as smooth as possible. The Bill sets out that where an accident is caused by an insured AV, the AV’s insurer is liable for the damage caused as a result of the accident. This means that injured drivers (or should we refer to them as ‘passengers’?) and other road users can claim against a motor insurer in the same way that we do now. This would avoid complicated product liability claims against AV manufacturers and algorithm coders. This new legal regime is to be completed by giving the insurer a right of recovery against the manufacturer. Insurers would not be liable for damages stemming from accidents caused by AV if the vehicle has not been insured, in such a case, the owner of the vehicle would be liable.
However, if the owner of the AV fails to update the car’s software, or makes unauthorised alterations to the software, the insurer’s liability may be limited or excluded entirely. Additionally, insurers’ liability could be limited if an injured party is responsible in any way for the road traffic accident, and insurers would not be liable at all if an accident involving a driverless car was caused by the owner’s “negligence in allowing the vehicle to drive itself when it was not appropriate to do so”.
Jackson Boyd will monitor the developments of AV technology and related legal claims in the coming months and will produce further articles on this matter.