The thought of being chartered across the city by a knight-rider-esque car that knows how to make the perfect coffee, whilst catching up on Match of the Day sounds incredible and is certainly the end goal for a number of technology companies who are taking a lead in the field of driverless vehicles (perhaps not the bit about coffee, but a collaboration in this space would be welcomed).

Currently Google are testing out their autonomous vehicle programme in California; Uber are conducting similar tests in San-Francisco and the likes of Tesla and Nissan are also key players testing out driverless technology. These tests have not been without fault, with Tesla recording the first fatality in a driverless car last year and hackers (in a controlled experiment) demonstrating their ability to commandeer a car from quite a distance.

Just like Blockchain technology is looking to disrupt the world of banking and digital currencies it would appear that driverless cars are also set to make significant waves in the legal and regulatory landscape of the motoring, technology and insurance sectors.

Legal implications

Assuming that driverless cars do become mainstream technology and are widely accepted across the board, the legal implications will lead lawyers into unchartered territories. A few questions and scenarios will need to be addressed by regulators and legislators.

  1. What happens when two driverless cars collide, who is at fault?
    Depending on the circumstances liability could be placed on the car manufacturer for delivering a defective product or the insurers for agreeing to insure against the risk or the software developers for a fault in the code underlying the AI. There could be multiple parties at fault here and this will certainly raise novel legal questions in future.
  2. What happens where you are in the driving seat, but the car is driving itself and still crashes?
    This raises the question as to what degree should human control within the car be maintained. Reaction times in particular will be diminished where one is catching up on day time TV or otherwise occupied. It is for this reason that I believe that in the foreseeable future at least, there will still be an element of human control required where one is required to navigate and negotiate the complexities of inner city driving.
  3. What are UK lawmakers currently doing?
    The UK has taken great strides to be at the forefront of driverless technology and has recently provided £20million to research groups developing driverless cars and has also produced a non-statutory code of practice for testing automated vehicles.

    The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill is currently going through the houses of parliament. Insurance will be mandatory on autonomous vehicles and it is therefore thought that where there are multiple parties to a claim, it will be the insurance companies who are contacted in the first instance as opposed to concurrent claims against manufacturers and software providers.

Conclusion

The technology is still in its infancy and it is not likely that cars will become driverless overnight. It is likely that the autonomous nature of the technology will gradually start to appear in new cars, and for the foreseeable future at least will require human input and attention. It is definitely worth following how this area of the law develops.

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