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Automated vehicles - who is liable for an accident?

View profile for Lynda Thompson
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What would happen if you were involved in a car accident and it wasn’t you driving, but the vehicle itself?

In November 2017 the Chancellor promised to have fully driverless cars in use by 2021.  All drivers have a duty to other road users under the Road Traffic Act 1988 to drive with due care and attention.  If this duty of care is breached and a person is injured, the victim may be able to claim compensation from the vehicle driver.  Is it fair that a person should be able to claim compensation from a vehicle driver when that person wasn’t actually driving the vehicle and consequently did not breach their duty of care?

The Law Commission has been asked by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) to undertake a review of the legal framework for automated vehicles.  This includes consultation on civil liability in the event of an accident where the vehicle occupant is not driving. 

It has tentatively been proposed by the Law Commission that there be a new category of vehicle user; that of the ‘user-in-charge’, who must still be fit and qualified to drive.  The main role of the user-in-charge would be to take over in planned circumstances or in certain situations.  The Law Commission are also considering whether users of automated vehicles should undergo some form of additional or alternative driving test and/or some compulsory training.  The project will run for three years from March 2018 to March 2021.

The aim of the recent Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEV 2018) is to provide a quick and smooth path to compensation for death, personal injury or property damage caused by an automated vehicle.  When the automated driving system is engaged, civil liability on the ‘driver’ would be replaced by new legal provisions.  The insurer of the vehicle would be directly liable for any damage caused.  The insurer could recover damages from another party at fault, such as the vehicle manufacturer.  This is because the accident would not have taken place as a result of human fault, but because of a failure in the vehicle itself.  AEV 2018 creates a wholly new form of liability which arises directly on insurers.  Of course, in situations where the vehicle occupant is driving the vehicle, then the normal rules of negligence would apply.

You can read more and respond to the preliminary consultation (by 08 February 2019) here:  https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/automated-vehicles/