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Driverless cars


I have read a few horror stories recently about driverless cars causing fatalities and this got me thinking. If I were to be knocked off my bike by a driverless car or bus and get injured who would be paying me compensation? Surely the owner would have a get out as the vehicle was supposed to be safe and it is not the driver’s fault?

Mark Glover, by e-mail



As far as I know, no laws have yet been introduced in England and Wales dealing with liability for accidents involving driverless or automated vehicles specifically. Therefore, and until such time as new laws are introduced, we must rely on the current laws.

Section 104 of The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 deals with “driver’s control”. It states “No person shall drive or cause or permit any other person to drive, a motor vehicle on a road if he is in such a position that he cannot have proper control of the vehicle or have a full view of the road and traffic ahead.” This would seem to suggest that irrespective of the fact the vehicle is driverless there must be a person in control of the vehicle, i.e. in the driver’s seat and ready to take over the controls manually should something happen that the computerised system has missed.

The person in control will undoubtedly still have to carry third party motor insurance and be responsible for driving offences committed. But this raises the question of what happens if something goes wrong with the computer system or it misses something not leaving enough time for the driver to remedy the situation. Could the driver seek to deny responsibility based on malfunction and blame the manufacturer and could the manufacturer seek to pass on liability to the software developer or computer programmer? What happens if a driverless car suddenly speeds up to avoid a perceived danger and the driver ends up getting a speed ticket?

I can foresee many legal complications arising from driverless vehicles. Will insurance premiums be sky high and thus unaffordable to most considering the recent high profile fatalities? I wonder if automated vehicles will ever become a mainstream reality. However, in the meantime the driver must be in control and this would appear to rather defeat the object of them!



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