Who Is Responsible If A Self-Driving Car Crashes?

Wed 2nd Feb 2022

Automated vehicle technology is no longer science fiction, and though it may be some years before our roads are crowded with self-driving cars, lawmakers are already considering the implications of autonomy in the UK.

The British Government has already given the green light for some levels of automated vehicle technology to go live on the road network later this year and now The Law Commission, the independent statutory body set up to review laws in England and Wales, has considering the key issues.

The commission published a report this week, and has made a number of recommendations, the main one of which is the introduction of a new Automated Vehicles Act. There remains plenty of gray areas to consider, and the commission is keen to make a clear distinction between driver assist features, which will be made legal this year, and fully autonomous systems.

But on the fully autonomous systems, The Law Commission’s guidance is groundbreaking when it comes to fully automated, as the person behind the wheel (if there is one) is no longer responsible for how the car drives, or any incidents as a result of how the car drives. That responsibility is passed to the company which sought authorisation to introduce the technology, i.e. the car manufacturers.

Understandably, motoring organisations are cautious about this news, and there remains some scepticism as to how this report paves the way forward.

 “The Law Commission is right to distinguish between driver-assistance features and self-driving, and to ensure driver-assistance features aren’t marketed as self-driving,” said Edmund King, president of the AA, in response to the report.

“What is less clear is when such technologies can be used on the road. The Department of Transport has already missed its 2021 ambitions to get trials of fully driverless cars on the roads, although there is now a trial under way in Milton Keynes which we will watch with interest.

“Meanwhile, there still remains a large level of scepticism amongst the driving public who are unconvinced that fully autonomous cars can co-exist alongside human drivers.”