Driverless cars – They are coming

28th Jun 2017

Driverless cars are no longer the work of science fiction writers and whilst we will probably never see the Marty McFly Hover Board from Back to the Future, it is only a matter of time and perhaps not that much time, before driverless cars enter the UK roads. There are and indeed will be a significant range of automation, stretching from what we see now with the many driver aids, such as adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and parking assistance up to completely automated vehicles which will drive themselves.

Many companies are already investing heavily in developing this technology and tests are happening throughout the world with a view to fully automated vehicles entering the market. The inevitable conflict this will cause is the gradual evolution from driven cars to driverless cars and their interaction with each other, in effect combining the skills and reaction of the driver with the technology, computers and cameras of the future.

In advance of the general election, the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill was making its way through Parliament. This has now been put on hold by the election and still has some way to go before it becomes law, but it is clear that the government are planning for the next stage of driverless technology. Understandably the Bill is seeking to protect the consumer, but as lawyers it is inevitable that there will be issues arising, as this technology evolves, which will need to be considered.

The current text of the Bill states that where an automated vehicle is driving itself, is insured at the time of the accident and causes injury or damage as a result of the accident, the insurer of the vehicle will be liable.

It appears that the Government’s intention is to avoid any claims against the manufacturer and make the insurer liable. This is certainly in the consumer’s interest and will hopefully avoid the owners of these vehicles having to carry both motor insurance and product liability insurance. The intention appears that the consumer will be able to avoid a lengthy piece of litigation against a manufacturer.

The Bill is in its early stages but it will be interesting to see if it develops to address issues such as:

  • Can the compensating insurer pursue the manufacturer separately?
  • To what extent can the owner of the vehicle be liable, if for example they failed to service the vehicle or update the software?
  • What if the vehicle’s computer system is hacked, does that leave the vehicle uninsured and the victim without any ability to pursue a claim?

Driverless and automated vehicles are on their way and the law will develop as it has historically done as technology has evolved, and it will be interesting to see how the legal expertise and insurance industry deal with this new technology.

Mark Hambling is a Director of Rogers & Norton Solicitors and a Senior Litigator with the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. He can be contacted on 01603 675611 or email: mbh@rogers-norton.co.uk.