The distinctions between human control of vehicles and driving-assistance technology are coming under further scrutiny.
As the UK plans to have autonomous vehicles (AVs) operating on its roads by 2021, the overriding concern is to road safety, and who would be liable in an accident. More vehicles are being developed to self-drive in slow-moving traffic and park autonomously, yet the legal and insurance implications of such vehicles are still to be defined.
The unfamiliar innovation of this technology leaves room for human and robot error, with the ultimate fear being that drivers wrongly assume that vehicles can be left to independently manage a journey and could cause an accident. To avoid collisions and difficulties in assessing liability, the Association of British Insurers is encouraging manufacturers to be absolutely clear about the description of the AVs’ capabilities.
There are separate levels of AV assistance and cognition, creating a distinction between the responsibilities of the human drivers and those of the AV software.
Regardless, politicians, insurers and vehicle manufacturers have raised safety concerns over when drivers are to resume full control, in an attempt to avoid drivers becoming “complacent and overly reliant on technology.” Politicians continue to debate the tests for AV software technology, not only on how AVs distinguish road safety risks and transfer operating powers to the driver, but also the ethical programming for AVs to “deal with moral judgments.”
As a consequence, there is demand that insurance laws be refitted to ensure all parties are covered in any accident involving AVs. This has been acknowledged by the Secretary of State for Transport, saying that the government will be “creating a new compulsory insurance framework that covers the use of automated vehicles and when the driver has legitimately handed control to the vehicle. This will ensure that victims have quick and easy access to compensation.”
While it seems likely that human drivers will be obligated to be in the front seat with their hands on the wheel during “highly assisted” driving, liability and the legal obligations for operating AVs are still being sketched out as the technology develops (or, at this point, should we say ‘evolves’?).
We will continue to follow this area of allow and provide relevant updates when available.