Given advances in technology it was only a matter of time before the science-fiction of driverless vehicles became reality. This has led to questions about what happens if you are injured by a driverless car.
The Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 received Royal Ascent in July 2018 and is expected to become law shortly. At the moment the law in relation to insurance motor vehicles is based on the idea that human drivers must have personal insurance to cover compensation for injury or property damage caused by them when they are driving. The new Act expands that principle and introduces the idea that someone can be liable for damage caused by vehicle even if they are nowhere near it when the accident occurs.
This provides a possible means of recovering compensation if you are injured by a driverless car.
The current law is very limited as it only applies where the injury was caused by the driverless car as a “product” rather than as a vehicle, so the new Act is therefore an extremely significant development in the law.
The main points of the Act as it relates to compensation for injury or damage are as follows:
- Vehicles capable of driving themselves in public places must be registered by the Department of Transport;
- If an accident is caused by an automated vehicle when it is driving itself the insurers of the vehicle will be liable for loss and damage caused;
- As with claims involving vehicles with human drivers, a person injured can still face a deduction from their compensation for “contributory negligence” (the idea that someone may have contributed to the cause of the accident or their injuries in some way) in an accident involving an automated vehicle; and
- Importantly, liability under this Act cannot be excluded by the terms of an insurance policy. This gives reassurance to innocent victims who are injured by a driverless car.
- There can be some limitations to an insurer’s liability if the accident was caused by the injured person modifying the software that controls the automated vehicle.
The protection offered to injured people under this Act is therefore extremely welcome and we keenly await the commencement date.
However, the protection is not unlimited. For example, there is no requirement for the insurance to be in place if the vehicle cannot lawfully be used on public roads or other public places. This means vehicles that just run on private land could be excluded, such as agricultural vehicles which can be used to drive themselves in fields but cannot be lawfully used on a public road.