Driverless Cars – Who is at fault?

As technology continues to better itself day by day, it should not be a surprise to us that cars would eventually drive themselves.

When Google announced in 2009 that it was beginning to develop driverless cars, this was met with intrigue and excitement. When Google announced in 2012 that the cars were to be tested on the roads in California, this was met with more intrigue and excitement. However, the question murmured by some legal professionals was ‘Who would be at fault in an accident caused by a driverless car?’

In February 2016, the inevitable happened when one of Google’s driverless cars was involved in a road traffic collision with a bus in California. This accident has brought the murmuring to the forefront of everyone’s minds. So, who is at fault in an accident caused by a driverless car? Is it the owner of the vehicle? The manufacturer?

Under English law, the person using the car is generally liable for their actions. However, where the vehicle is driving of its own autonomy the lines are still very much blurred.

The Department for Transport suggests that there would be strict liability placed on the manufacturer such as Google and others. Strict liability is the imposition of liability on a party without a finding of fault such as negligence.

So, if the driverless car collides with your vehicle as a result of a malfunction then the claim would be one of product liability against the manufacturer to recover compensation for your injuries.

Google have stated that they “bore some responsibility” for the accident because the accident would not have occurred had their car not moved and as such have admitted that the accident was, at least in some part, their fault.

After the accident, the test driver of the new ‘wondercar’ stated that they believed that the bus was going to slow down to allow the car to pull out.

This further blurs the lines of liability as it reverts to the question of whether the vehicle owner would be at fault for the accident as they could have taken over control and avoided an incident, but they didn’t. Google has apparently now redesigned its algorithms to account for the fact that buses and other large vehicles may not wait for smaller cars to pass.

The debate will continue to rage as driverless vehicles are developed and tested on UK roads.

The current law means that if a self-driving car crashes then responsibility lies with the person that was negligent, whether that’s the driver for not taking due care or the manufacturer for producing a faulty product. Or could it be both?

As George Osbourne announces that driverless cars are to be tested on British roads in 2017 it is certainly worth keeping an eye on the progression of the law and to whom liability would be apportioned.

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