Knight Rider Becomes Reality
The self-driving car - as famously depicted in the David Hasselhoff TV series Knight Rider – is fast becoming reality. With major tech and automotive names such as Tesla, Uber and Google making big strides in their piloting of automated vehicles, and Chancellor Phillip Hammond having pledged to ensure genuine driverless cars on British roads by 2021, what steps are being taken to ensure that this brave new dawn is properly regulated?
Earlier this month, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles tasked the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission with undertaking a “far-reaching review of the UK’s legal framework for automated vehicles”.
In the shorter term, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill is already making its way through the Westminster Parliament to try and resolve some of the most pressing issues raised by automated vehicles.
One of the key areas that the bill seeks to deal with is insurance. At the moment, insurance law is very much driver-centric. But what happens when the human is nothing more than a passenger, and cars can switch between driving autonomously and being driven by a human?
The Government’s solution is to create a “single insurer model”. This means the “victim” of an accident will have a direct right to make a claim against the motor insurer, irrespective of whether the issue relates to the driver’s use of the vehicle or the automation technology. From a product liability perspective, where it is found that the accident was caused by a failing in the vehicle’s automated driving systems, the car insurer would have a right of claim against the vehicle or component part manufacturer.
In what ways might a driver themselves be liable where they have disengaged from the driving process and are trusting their car to do the driving? According to the present wording of the Bill, liability could be attributed to a driver for taking the decision to allow a vehicle to drive itself when it is inappropriate to do so, or where they tamper with the operating system of the car, or fail to install a “safety-critical” update. In such cases, the insurer could potentially recoup some or all of their pay-outs.
And then there are other potential issues where the software causes a car to run a red light, exceed the speed limit or enter a bus lane.
All of this will in the view of some cause a “legal nightmare”.
While the lawyers and politicians consider the minutiae of the legal framework, back in the real world the development of driverless cars continues apace.
Take the GATEway project in Greenwich: a research trial, currently entering its final phase, which sees members of the public invited to ride in driverless shuttle “pods”.
With industries as diverse as parcel delivery and bricklaying joining the increasing trend towards automation, our lawmakers need to get to grips with the issues – and fast.
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