Who Will Be Responsible when a Driverless Car Crashes?

An autonomous car, also known as an uncrewed vehicle, driverless car, self-driving car and robotic car, is an autonomous vehicle capable of fulfilling the main transportation capabilities of a traditional car. As an autonomous vehicle, it is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.

Debate has recently emerged questioning who will be liable when a driverless car gets into an accident. With the news breaking that industry experts are projecting fully automated cars on our roads by as soon as 2020, the prospect of the autonomous future of our roads is coming into stronger and stronger focus.

Currently, cars with driver-assistance features require a high level of driver engagement while the vehicle is operating. Cars that are being built to decrease the level of driver engagement do not have clearly established rules and regulations. In several states, drivers of class-3 vehicles, a car that can drive itself without the driver, are required to have a special registration to be on the road. As the industry continues to progress, vehicles will continue to evolve towards full automation, and clearer rules and regulations will follow.

Insurance will have to change because when cars are able to drive themselves and avoid crashes the risks will change. According to experts, with 90% of car accidents being caused by human error, driverless cars should lead to fewer accidents and claims. One challenge for the car insurance industry will be who is responsible in the event of an accident. Motor policies are currently based on the driver, but for driverless cars the most likely solution is that the car manufacturer will be responsible for the safety of the product.

There’s no doubt that accidents involving autonomous vehicles will put challenging new liability questions before the courts. But that doesn’t mean the courts will be unable to address them. And it doesn’t mean that we have to put the autonomous-vehicle industry on hold so legislators can attempt to preemptively draft and enact an entirely new set of liability laws that anticipate everything that might go wrong.

It is clear that the motor insurance market is starting to prepare for change, but
it remains to be seen to what extent brokers will need to react to the arrival of driverless cars.

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