Back (seat) to the future!

Concept 26

We are living in a world of rapid technological advances. In the last 20 years Google, mobile phones, GPS and Social Media have transformed our daily lives. We can shop for everything from home. Communication, whether it is written, spoken or visual is instant. The Great Britannia Encyclopaedias are now confined to adorning bookshelves thanks to the internet’s limitless wealth of knowledge.

Amongst the next ground-breaking technological phenomenon within the next generation may be the driverless car. The industry is presently in the vernal stages of research and development, however, models have already been tested on public roads in the US and Singapore. According to the Centre for Future Studies in Kent, fully autonomous satellite-guided cars running on electricity will make up the majority of vehicles on our roads within 25 years. It is deemed a matter of “when” and not “if”. With over 90% of road traffic accidents at present being caused by human error, safety is seen as the primary advantage. Such vehicles would also provide significantly improved transport access to the elderly and disabled and provide benefits to the economy via working passengers and the elimination of traffic jams.

The concept is undoubtedly exciting but so profoundly different from present day motor travel that the conversion to fully autonomous transport will surely be a gradual one. Recent surveys would indicate that deference to autonomous driving still requires a pubic leap of faith.

In addition to the technological hurdles, the potential legal implications for a shift to driverless road travel are extensive. The insurance products will have to change and the apportionment of civil liability could become a very grey.

  • Legislation will need to carefully determine when control of the vehicle passes from the occupant to the vehicle’s operating systems, and vice versa, and who should hold such control in a critical driving event. The primary introduction of partially automated vehicles with manual override systems will make this task challenging.
  • Motorists would require new insurance products incorporating product liability cover despite overall premiums being estimated to fall due to improved safety. Insurers may also demand legislative redress against the vehicle or software manufacturers in cases of apparent driving system failure.
  • Road traffic laws which presently require that a driver should always be in control of a vehicle will have to be rewritten. The concept of a driver would need to be re-defined.
  • Varying standards of product safety legislation in different countries will challenge the public introduction of vehicles on an international level required to progress the industry.
  • Criminal liability for fault accidents would have to be reviewed if driver accountability is taken away through automation.
  • Ever tightening data protection legislation would be tested by necessary collections of personal data when analysing accidents and to ensure safety when dealing with public or fleet vehicle ownership.

There are certainly many problems to overcome before driverless cars become a ubiquitous mode of transport in our society and it will certainly be interesting to follow how the industry develops in the coming years. Whilst driving habits in the present day are far from perfect, MTB Solicitors as leading experts in road traffic litigation are pleased to offer our services to road users and we invite you to contact us for any assistance you require. Call or email us 02890 329801 / legal@mtb-law.co.uk.