UK Begins Journey To Autonomous Future

Author:Mr Mark Hemsted
Profession:Clyde & Co

The UK is to begin its journey to an autonomous driving future in 2018, with the enactment of the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill. The Bill, which is based on insurance industry proposals, will extend compulsory motor insurance to include the use of autonomous vehicles.

The road to regulation in the UK is being watched closely by those in Europe and further afield to gauge how it may work in practice. This Bill is a suitable attempt at mirroring the present insurance position, which it is hoped will help kick-start this emerging technology and further demonstrates the government's commitment to ensuring the UK is at the forefront of this developing technology.

Indeed with Uber recently contracting with Volvo to purchase 24,000 Volvo XC90 to form a fleet of driverless cars between 2019 and 2021 such regulation is needed to set the groundwork as demand for this technology accelerates. On the basis an autonomous vehicle is not limited to shift work as a human driver, those cars alone could replace every non-Uber taxi and cab in London. These developments underline how the technology could rapidly change the face of transport, manufacturing and the economy in the next few years.

However, this is very much the first piece in the puzzle, with further regulation anticipated as the technology develops. Domestic and European legislation will likely need to be amended to allow for autonomous vehicles to be tested without a human driver in the vehicle. This significant shift in regulation is needed to bring the UK and Europe into line with the legal position in US states such as Florida and Michigan, where autonomous vehicles can operate without a human presence.

The Bill maintains a single insurer model, where a motor insurer covers both the driver's use of the vehicle and the autonomous vehicle technology, whilst allowing insurers a right of recovery from the manufacturer where the vehicle is at fault, pursuant to established product liability laws. Accordingly current "state of art" defences will be preserved for manufacturers.

While the Bill retains quick-and-easy access to compensation for claimants, the position will be more complex where an accident involves a semi-autonomous vehicle. If a driver fails to take back control of the vehicle in an emergency situation or where the autonomous function fails to operate correctly, determining the appropriate apportionment of liability will be difficult. However there is no reason to think the...

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