Compulsory motor vehicle insurance is to be extended to cover the use of driverless cars and the law will be updated
The Government has announced it intends to make “minimum legislative changes” to accommodate autonomous vehicles (AVs) from an insurance perspective.
The preferred option came at the end of a consultation on using advanced driver assistance systems and automated vehicle technologies. It involves extending compulsory motor vehicle insurance to cover the use of AVs, as well as making additions to the Road Traffic Act 1988.
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A single insurer model has been proposed where the owner of a vehicle with advanced driving functions is covered both when they are driving and when they have handed full control over to the car.
If a crash is determined to have been caused by an AV, the insurer will always pay out to the innocent third party victim. They user of the AV would also be compensated, unless they had made unauthorised modifications to the vehicle or if they had neglected to install required software updates.
The consultation paper also states insurers will not be able to avoid paying compensation in the event of an AV being hacked.
In cases where the manufacturer is found to be liable, the insurer will be able to pursue a claim under existing common law and product liability arrangements in order to recover its costs.
In addition, other changes to the existing system will be made, including giving the Secretary of State for Transport the power to publish a list that will decide which vehicles are classified as AVs and in turn subject to new insurance requirements.
The Government also considered some other options. The first was to do nothing and leave the law as it currently is, but this was rejected as it risked creating gaps in the insurance system.
The other rejected option was the introduction of a first party liability model – this was deemed to be disproportionate to the relatively low number of AVs likely to be brought to market in the coming years.
Autonomous cars could be programmed to break driving laws
Driverless cars could be programmed with a “digital Highway Code” that allows them to make “common sense” decisions, potentially breaking the law in the interests of safety and traffic flow.
A joint consultation by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission has set out the need to create a set of rules to govern the actions of autonomous vehicles. These rules could involve programming driverless cars to mount the pavement, exceed the speed limit or edge through pedestrians in certain situations.
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The consultation paper says it may be undesirable but necessary for an autonomous car to break the law. Self-driving vehicles may, for example, need to mount the pavement in order to avoid a child that has run into the road, or could be required to cross solid white lines to let an emergency vehicle pass.
The consultation – which is the third part of a five-stage project reviewing the regulatory framework for the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles in the UK – also considers the possibility of driverless cars falling victim to “new forms of mischief and crime”.
Examples of this include standing in front of the vehicle to obstruct its movement, spraying paint or mud over its sensors, deliberately obscuring signs or white lines, or hacking into the car’s software, causing it to crash.
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Many of these acts can be applied to conventional vehicles and are already covered by criminal law, but the consultation will consider if any new legislation is required.
In accordance with the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, the consultation says the insurer of a driverless car is directly liable in the case of death, personal injury or property damage caused by the vehicle. Once the claim is settled, the insurer may attempt to reclaim damages from the vehicle manufacturer.
However, the consultation explains that it is necessary to decide who should be liable if a driverless car breaks the law and provisionally proposes there should legal clarification that the vehicle occupant should not be responsible for the offence.
Following the consultation, the project will enter a policy development stage, after which a report will be produced.
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