A joint public consultation has been launched by the Scottish Law Commission and the Law Commission of England and Wales on the topic of legal reforms to ensure that the UK is prepared for the introduction of self-driving vehicles.
This is the first of a series of consultations as part of a three-year review of the law in this area. The outcome of these consultations will likely have a significant impact on those injured in road traffic accidents.
Under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, where an accident is caused by a self-driving vehicle, the insurer of the vehicle will be directly liable for the damage. Although the Scottish Law Commission and the Law Commission feel that this Act provides a necessary statutory basis for providing compensation to victims of road traffic accidents, their consultation seeks to clarify three particular issues regarding its provisions.
Firstly, they are seeking views on whether the guidance in the Act is sufficiently clear on the topic of contributory negligence or too difficult to follow. The current provisions involve the courts having to assess liability based on two imaginary situations – the amount of liability is given as the amount that would apply to a a claim in respect of the accident brought by the injured party against a person other than the insurer or vehicle owner, and the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 is said to take effect as if the behaviour of the automated vehicle were the fault of the person made liable for the damage by section 2 of the Act. The Law Commissions believe that that the combined effect of these provisions can be difficult to follow and could be clarified further.
Secondly, the Law Commissions are questioning whether further guidance should be included in the Act on the topic of causation. A particular issue which could arise would be whether the insurer should still be held liable if a self-driving vehicle insured by them causes damage to another vehicle when the accident was actually the fault of another road user. The Law Commissions have stated that they see merit in leaving causation issues for the courts to resolve on a case-by-case basis, but are seeking views as to whether further guidance or clarification is required for the benefit of insurers.
The consultation also highlights the fact that an insurer found liable for an accident caused by a self-driving vehicle could bring a secondary action against the manufacturer or supplier of the vehicle if the accident was caused by a defective driving system. This could be made as a delictual claim, under consumer rights legislation or under contractual law. The Law Commissions do not view this issue of being a particular priority at this stage, but have included several questions aimed at clarifying the law in relation to these kinds of actions.
Although the aim of self-driving vehicles is to provide an overall safer experience for road users by eliminating human error, things can still go wrong on occasion, and it is hoped that the UK will be better equipped to deal with these situations by having clearer legal rules put in place as a result of this review.
In the meantime, Jackson Boyd’s specialist road traffic person injury team has significant experience in providing help to those involved in road traffic accidents. If you have been involved in a road traffic accident and would like advice, click here to contact us online or call us on 0333 060 0705.