Driverless Cars: Legality and Insurance

Driverless cars are frequently referred to as CAV, meaning Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and it is recognised that there are a number of stages. The stages start at zero, where the driver performs all the driving tasks and it moves through the different stages until we reach level 5 where all tasks are performed by the car. This is a process of moving from control to autonomy.

Levels of car autonomy

0 1 2 3 4 5
Driver Feet off Hands Off Eyes off Mind off Passenger
All tasks Limited tasks Enhanced tasks Shared tasks Specific tasks All tasks

As we move through the stages we are moving towards autonomy. Level 2 is already starting to happen but it’s progression to level 3 and beyond that begins to raise questions.  

These questions might be legal challenges. Where will the liability lay in the event of an accident? There is talk of ethical bots having to make these decisions but they will be decided in a courtroom.

Decisions about driverless cars must go through the courts where these will affect how driverless cars are regulated and insured. But there’ll be a discrepancy in the timeline as technology will move a lot faster than the law. 

When driving we are expected to obey the law. In addition, there is advice we are expected to follow. This advice might not be the law itself, but it could be used in a court of law.  To drive in a busy urban environment without at some point breaking a rule in the highway code will be very difficult.

Law courts

The reality is, at some point, we all might do something that is not strictly within the rules. A solid white line must not in law be crossed. But if a large vehicle in front was holding up the traffic by waiting to turn right and there is a bus lane to the left. Who amongst us (having first checked it was safe) would not quickly nip through in order to maintain traffic flow? 

This along with making way for an emergency vehicle and to avoid an accident are mitigating circumstances. But whether you should go over the line and how long for comes down to opinion. Opinions differ. No doubt over a period of time algorithms will answer that problem. But remember, we won’t suddenly all go over to autonomous vehicles. We will be in a mixed fleet with different levels of autonomy and human drivers still having control of their vehicle or the driver wishes it.

Car Insurance 

What about insurance? All the way up to level 4 there will have to be some kind of driver insurance. In addition to this, when the car is in an autonomy mode presumably the manufacturer of the car will have to have general insurance to cover product liability. It’s possible that other suppliers of hardware and software will also need this cover. 

When it comes to insurance and the driver, why would an insurance company give cover to a driver who, in order to speed his journey up has assumed control of their vehicle to either break the law or disregard some safety advice? 

The process of moving from control to autonomy may seem simple when broken up into stages but we have a long journey before these cars are on our roads.