Full automation should mean drivers are not liable for accidents, insurers say

Drivers should not be blamed for collisions in fully automated vehicles, the insurance industry has said.

In a joint submission to the Law Commission's preliminary consultation paper on automated vehicles, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Thatcham Research said that drivers of fully automated vehicles should not be held liable for accidents involving their cars while the technology is in charge.

Once technology has advanced to the point where vehicles can manage all road conditions and scenarios, allowing those travelling to stop thinking about the driving task and do other things, the ABI says it would be unfair to expect the driver to intervene if the on-board systems got something wrong or were unable to prevent an accident.

This means manufacturers must not be allowed to have their vehicles recognised as autonomous when a driver might still be expected to act in an emergency, the insurance body noted.

It stressed that if and when control of the vehicle is passed back to someone on board, this process must be clearly signposted and give the driver enough time to regain control safely.

Until a vehicle can handle emergency scenarios without driver intervention, it can only be considered to offer advanced driver assistance. In such vehicles, the ABI explained, drivers remain fully responsible for the car and must be ready to take back control at any moment.

An international working party on automated, autonomous and connected cars, part of the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe), is in the process of setting out detailed criteria vehicles will have to meet to be considered autonomous.

"There will come a point when the drivers of today are effectively passengers in a vehicle driving itself, and at that stage we want motorists to be reassured they won't be held liable for an error made by a vehicle or a piece of on-board technology," said Laurenz Gerger, policy adviser for motor insurance at the ABI.

"Standards being set internationally, and the way they are adopted in the UK, need to include strict requirements to ensure vehicles aren't rushed onto the roads under the badge of autonomy when in fact they may still need human intervention at short notice."

Until then, make sure you're insured on the roads and visit our car insurance page for a quote.