Driverless Cars and the Future of Liability

Driverless technology is making great strides. In fact, our roads could be filled with autonomous vehicles in the not-so-distant future. Proponents of the technology say that these cars could save lives by eliminating human error. On the other hand, many legal advocates explain they – and other experts – haven’t fully explored the technology – at least when it comes to liability. Driverless vehicles pose an interesting but disturbing question; what happens in the event of an accident? Will insurance companies refuse to pay claims involving driverless vehicles?

Autonomous Vehicles and the Insurance Industry

Experts predict that autonomous technology could shrink the insurance industry to 40% of its current size in the next 25 years, largely due to the increased safety of autonomous cars. To understand how liability might play out in an autonomous situation, it’s helpful to understand the five levels of autonomous technology:

For level four and 5 vehicles, liability is more clear cut. In the event of an accident, manufacturers of these vehicles are more likely to be held responsible. Anything below 5, however, is legally open to interpretation.

Options for Driverless Car Liability

When determining the nature of liability for autonomous vehicles, there are a few possible options:

Many of these laws could prove applicable to autonomous vehicles, and these liability norms may evolve freely as manufacturers introduce these vehicles on the roadways. For example, the courts may order a manufacturer to pay for damages if their company puts a fleet of defective cars on the road (in accordance with current product liability law). Much of our current insurance system would shift from drivers to the makers of these vehicles.

This no-fault system requires families with injured children to follow certain procedures to collect compensation from a fund. A system similar to this for autonomous vehicles would encourage automakers to further develop this technology without fear of lawsuits.

When it comes to driverless technology, there are still many legal implications the courts have not fully explored. However, such issues are worth considering before autonomous vehicles hit the mainstream. We should do whatever we can to facilitate the development and adoption of this technology while affording protection from risk and potential negligence.