Self-driving cars shift responsibility from humans to autonomous car technology.
Who’s responsible in the event of an accident? As this technology continues to develop, so too must the area of automotive car liability.
Advocates of autonomy cite the overall improvements to road safety in a future with self-driving cars. Ninety-four per cent of car crashes are caused by driver error, and both partially and fully autonomous cars could improve that number – particularly by reducing injury and death from speeding and drunk driving.
Laws are developing
Still, no matter how good the technology, crashes, injuries and fatalities won’t disappear. As a result, laws and policies must develop to determine who is liable when an autonomous vehicle causes physical damage to people or property.
Autonomous vehicle sales forecasts reveal the answer to those questions are important. By 2021, it is expected 51,000 are expected to be on the road by 2021. That number climbs to upwards of 33 million by 2024.
As higher levels of autonomy are commercially introduced the insurance industry must also grapple with the question of liability. In November 2018, the Insurance Bureau of Canada recommended the use of a single insurance policy to cover driver negligence and automated technology in addition to a data-sharing arrangement with vehicle manufacturers, owners and /or insurers.
In the absence of a regulated system, it isn’t yet known how the courts will address these cases. Another complicating factor is vehicles produced over the next few years will be in varying stages of autonomy. And, as the law develops, it will have to address any defects in the vehicle’s system to determine how fault can be allocated between the vehicle and driver.
Various levels of autonomy
Existing technology already allows for various levels of autonomy, including communications, entertainment and driving assistance. Experts say these systems have been shown to be vulnerable to cyber attack with no trace of the attack in the vehicle’s data record system. There are also concerns regarding the third-party providers supplying this technology and the protection of their proprietary technical information.
The first known case of a death involving a self-driving vehicle occurred in Florida in 2016. A Tesla operating in its unique “autopilot mode” crashed into a tractor-trailer that made a left-hand turn in front of the vehicle, killing the Tesla’s driver. But, at the time of the accident, the car had apparently been warning its driver to disengage the autopilot mode and take control of the vehicle.
This example illustrates how autonomous technology is different. Instead of a driver failing to see and respond to something on the road, a machine operating the vehicle failed to interpret the signals its sensors received and process them in a way that averted a collision.
As more and more autonomous technology rolls out – which could last decades – the social and legal status of self-driving car technology will brush up against existing standards, practices and arguments.
In other words, keep your eyes on the road and stay tuned.