Government Launch Consultation To Prepare For Driverless Cars

Potential Major Shake-Up Of Insurance Rules With Introducing “Self-Driving” Cars


Saffron Otter, Press Officer | 0114 276 4666

Specialist serious injury solicitors at Irwin Mitchell are urging caution over the legal approach to driverless cars and say that there are major issues that need clarification and scrutiny as the Government launches a consultation to prepare for their eventual arrival on UK roads.

Ministers wish to act now to “lead the way” in driverless technology, but despite the fully autonomous cars not expecting to be in use in the UK for perhaps a further decade there are hurdles to overcome to make their use seamless in society.

For example in the Highway Code, first published in 1931, drivers will be routinely breaching rule 160 which states when the car is moving, “you should drive with both hands on the wheel where possible.” and so a root and branch review of driving regulations would be triggered by any such move.

Early innovations will have advanced systems such as remote control parking, which allows the driver to manoeuvre their vehicle using a key fob or an app, and motorway assist, where the car pilots itself, but with “human oversight.”

These systems are expected to be on sale in Britain within the next two to four years, with fully automated driverless vehicles expected to be on UK roads from 2020.

The Government is launching a nine-week consultation over the cars, whereby all drivers were invited to have their say.

Under the current proposals, insurance law will have to be changed so that motorists who have handed control to their “self-driving” cars can be insured properly. Motor insurance will remain compulsory but will be extended to cover product liability for automated vehicles.

The Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, said: “When a motorist has handed control to their vehicle they can be reassured that their insurance will be there if anything goes wrong.”

However, in the event of a collision where the driver has activated the automated vehicle technology, the consultation document warns that determining liability could prove “complex and time-consuming.”

The document also asks if the vehicles will increase motor insurance costs for drivers of conventional vehicles, and also debates if a driverless vehicle can be “hacked,” and then went on to cause an accident.

Neil Whiteley, serious injury expert at Irwin Mitchell, who represents people who have been injured in motor accidents, said:

Expert Opinion
“The advent of greater technology in cars is welcome as it should in theory lead to safer roads, fewer injuries and so fewer legal cases.

“But to ensure that people seriously injured in car accidents continue to be able to obtain the necessary support and compensation they need it is essential that the question of responsibility is made clear in relation to driverless technology.

“Drivers should ultimately be able to safely control a vehicle, even if that vehicle is in some form of automatic mode. Currently, it already happens with many vehicles fitted with a form of “cruise control,” such as cruise or lane control, and automatic breaking.

“There are potentially major risks if drivers are able to evade taking responsibility for what happens with their vehicle with potentially tragic consequences for themselves and other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists especially when an alert driver is able to respond to situations which the technology may not have done. The current thinking seems to be similarly enabled vehicles are very safe in relation to each other but the technology may be harder to make effective with the most vulnerable road users – pedestrians and cyclists.

“Those injured by automated vehicles should not be left with the only option of pursuing manufacturers for damages if they are severely injured – such product liability disputes could well be highly technical and expensive between injured victims and large, well-funded motor manufacturers. It is essential that motor insurance properly covers such situations so that individuals can obtain redress in the normal way.”
Neil Whiteley, Partner