Driverless features on motor vehicles are becoming more common on UK roads. Autonomous features currently available include:

  • Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping technologies which allow the automated control of acceleration, braking and steering for periods of time on motorways, major A-roads and in congested traffic
  • Advanced emergency braking systems automatically apply the brakes to help drivers avoid a collision
  • Self-parking systems allow a vehicle to parallel or reverse park completely hands free

All of these features are developments in automation technology which in the short and medium term are moving us closer to the ultimate scenario of a vehicle which is entirely “driverless”. (Source: Department of Transport, 2015)

TSP’s Head of Litigation and Personal Injury, Steve Webb, discusses the prospect of driverless vehicles and the legal complications that come with them.

“The recent article published by the BBC ‘What’s putting the brakes on driverless cars?’  is very thought provoking. It raises all sorts of issues. The most interesting are undoubtedly the ethical dilemmas and the question of legal liability for accidents when things go wrong.

The ethical dilemma surrounding whether or not to program a vehicle to avoid a pedestrian who steps out into the road in front of it, putting others (probably blameless and non-negligent) at risk, is a very difficult issue indeed. It could, in itself, lead to a legal liability for the person programming the vehicle. Potentially there might even be some responsibility in the criminal law.

With regard to legal liability for accidents when things go wrong, this adds a number of extra dimensions. Fault could possibly be attached to the manufacturer of the vehicle, the manufacturer of the software, or the programmer, whoever that may be. It is undoubtedly going to cause more complicated litigation in serious cases.

It is also apparent that the technology is far from ready for release to the public in on-road vehicles (see link to video below), which is perhaps a good thing. From my own perspective, I like driving my car and would never want this kind of technology. It strikes me that the only significant benefit which some might identify in this new technology could be the ability of all of the occupants of the vehicle to have a glass of wine with dinner, without worrying about who has to drive home. But then, I thought that was what taxis were for.

To watch a Fifth Gear video explaining how these features work and a test drive of various vehicles on the market currently, please click here