Driverless Vehicles: What Legal guidelines Does the Authorities Think about?
With driverless cars becoming commonplace in the near future, the government is thinking ahead. Find out about the new laws here.
Reading time: 4th protocol
Driverless cars are becoming the norm in our future. With automatic parking and cruise control already built into our cars today, governments and experts expect the cars to be fully automated at some point. As convenient as it is, removing control of the vehicle from people poses a number of legal issues. In September 2020 the National Transport Commission (NTC) published the Automated Vehicle Program Approach, which addresses some of these problems and outlines the recommended approach for the future. Here we are going to discuss some of the legal implications for driverless cars and what the government is doing to address them.
Who is responsible when something goes wrong?
Imagine you have selected and registered your driverless car from a reputable manufacturer. You turn on the ignition and set it in motion. Then sit back to read a book. Suddenly a lady is crossing the street with a stroller. The car makes a beeping sound and prompts you to take control of the car. Before you have time to do anything, however, your vehicle bumps into another car and breaks the arm of a passenger in that car. Who is responsible for the passenger’s injury?
Different companies can be legally responsible for damage caused by autonomous vehicles. In the NTC Strategy Paper 2018 entitled “Amendment of Driving Laws to Support Automated Vehicles”, the NTC stated that legal responsibility could lie with the following bodies:
- The fallback-enabled user of the car. This is the human “superior” of the autonomous vehicle. You should be ready to take control of the vehicle in the event of an emergency or failure.
- The operator. This is the person who sets the vehicle in motion. You can also ensure that the autonomous vehicle has the latest software updates and is in good physical condition.
- The registered operator. This is the person who is the registered owner of the vehicle. You also have responsibilities and other legal obligations to ensure that the vehicle is working properly.
- The manufacturer. This is the entity that created the vehicle. You are responsible for ensuring that the vehicle’s software is flawless and complies with traffic laws.
Find your perfect lawyer now
Get a fixed fee quote from Australia’s largest legal market
Find a lawyer
The NTC has recommended that whether a company has control of the vehicle should depend on the level of automation. For vehicles that allow the human supervisor to take control, the “fallback capable user” of the vehicle should be viewed as legally “under control” of the vehicle. This of course applies to cruise control and automated reverse parking, where the human driver can take control at any time. However, this could extend to where the vehicle controls everything, such as B. steering and braking. When the vehicle asks the human driver to take control in the event of an emergency or system failure, the human has legal control over the vehicle.
However, the NTC has stated that the “Automated Driving System Unit” (ADSE) should be legally responsible if the car is fully automated and there is no possibility for humans to take control. The ADSE should also be legally responsible for semi-automatic vehicles until the vehicle requests its human supervisor to take control. The ADSE is the body responsible for certifying that the autonomous vehicle is safe and complies with traffic laws. This unit is usually the manufacturer.
To ensure that manufacturers or other ADSEs give security priority, the NTC has proposed the development of a security insurance system. Under this system, companies must certify their security measures before the government approves their first shipment.
Does the insurance cover driverless cars?
At present, insurance systems do not sufficiently address automated vehicles. As indicated in the 2019 NTC Discussion Paper on Automated Vehicles Accident Insurance for Motor Vehicles, there are several reasons for this:
- Current automotive accident laws do not take into account that autonomous vehicle systems are the “driver” of the vehicle. The laws only apply to human drivers. This can prevent people injured by driverless cars from receiving compensation.
- Most motor vehicle laws are based on the “fault” of the driver. Also, because machines cannot behave negligibly or maliciously, it can prevent people injured by driverless cars from gaining access to compensation.
- Most automotive laws do not adequately cover accidents caused by defective products.
The NTC has pushed for reforms to more adequately address driverless cars in insurance systems. In August 2019, the transport ministers agreed to expand the existing accident insurance systems for car accidents to include automated accidental injuries. This has yet to be approved by the finance ministers responsible for the motor insurance systems.
Cyber security of driverless cars
One intended benefit of automation is to make our roads safer by reducing human error. However, giving all control of a vehicle to a machine may not be safe, it seems. Indeed, driverless vehicles pose major cybersecurity risks. If someone hacks into the software of a driverless vehicle, it can cause serious harm to the public.
In this regard, the NTC has proposed that the cybersecurity certification and accreditation requirements be included in the security insurance system. Applicants and manufacturers alike would have to demonstrate the strength of the vehicle’s cybersecurity system. You would be legally responsible if the cybersecurity system was not up to standard.
In the near future, driverless cars will become part of our everyday lives. In preparation for this, the government is considering steps to address some of the important legal issues outlined above. The NTC recommendations appear solid. The hope is that they will soon be incorporated into law to ensure that someone is responsible for the actions of driverless cars.