A Legal View On Autonomous Vehicles

Several companies have been working on self-driving cars and even trucks, including Google and Tesla. However, what autonomous vehicles will really mean for the world when they’re finally ready for the general public is something that we need to examine closely. The legal implications of vehicles that are driving themselves and what they will mean in relation to insurance cover are important topics to examine closely.

The development of autonomous cars hasn’t been without accidents, including one fatal incident that led to Uber ending their self-driving car operations in Arizona (although they will continue them elsewhere). Still, many experts predict that we will have fully autonomous vehicles within the next ten years. It’s important to examine what this might mean for insurance cover, maintenance, and for the rules of the road.

The Insurance View
The question of what autonomous vehicles mean for insurance cover is one that needs to be answered before they can be available to the general public. If an autonomous vehicle is in an accident, who is liable? Is it the driver, who wasn’t technically the driver, or perhaps the manufacturer? One of the possibilities is that compulsory insurance could cover product liability. Another option is that manufacturers will self-insure, as Volvo have suggested that they will do. Insurance policies will need to adjust to help with software problems and even issues such as hacking.
Autonomous Vehicle Maintenance
Another essential issue to consider is how autonomous vehicles might be maintained. For example, current standards for vehicle safety don’t include requirements for self-driving cars. They will need to be updated to cover automated systems and ensure they are tested thoroughly. In the UK, the MOT will need to embrace new rules. One of the issues to consider is whether a vehicle with autonomous capabilities would be roadworthy is the autonomous systems weren’t working but the vehicle could still be driven manually.

In terms of actual maintenance and repair, professional vehicle repairers will also have to consider how their jobs might change. New skills could be required to keep up with the software and ensure everything is running smoothly and safely.

Autonomous Vehicles on the Road
Of course, there’s also the issue of how autonomous vehicles and other vehicles around them should behave on the road. The Highway Code will still set out the rules for autonomous vehicles and their drivers, but some changes are likely to be necessary for the future. However, rather than tightening up the rules, it could allow for some to be relaxed. For example, it could be more efficient for autonomous cars to drive much closer together. It’s also important to consider the implications of having both manual and autonomous cars on the road. Everyone isn’t immediately going to have an autonomous car, so we need to consider the interactions between people driving manually and those who are letting their self-driving vehicles do most of the work.

Autonomous vehicles won’t be on the roads for the general public for at least another few years. In the meantime, there are still plenty of practical, legal and ethical questions to answer.