Driverless car is no longer a science fiction. Many companies are testing and preparing for the grand launch of driverless cars. In the current driver controlled cars, the driver takes control of the wheel and the driver is responsible for the safety of everyone in the car and around him or her. In the case of driverless car, a programme takes control of the vehicle. There is no set law about who or what is ultimately responsible for the safety of parties involve. The logical assumption is that the company to design and manufactures the car should be hold the responsibility. If this is the case, then the future litigation for car accident injuries would become a matter of product liability.
In the current system of product liability, it is often the case they the compensation payment is paid by the manufacturers’ insurer. In the case of driverless cars, if there is not sufficient data for a reliable insurance premium calculation, this makes it hard in providing insurance. Even if the insurance is provided, there still elements of doubt on: 1) If the insurance covers all possible scenarios of events? 2) How much insurance coverage for each of possible scenarios of events? 3) How much is a fair compensation amount in each of scenarios? 4) How long will the litigation take? And, 5) What is the dispute process?
To complicate the matter even future, it is often the case that car designer and car manufacturers are often two separate entitles. What is the legal implication in personal injury litigation? The question will be: 1) How to establish the at fault party? And, what is there is dispute? 2) What is the compensation structure? i.e, who pays who and how would this affect the compensation payment received by victims of driverless car accident? 3) How long would the litigation is expected to take as there potentially multiple parties in this situation.
The current framework on motor vehicle accident injury compensation in Western Australia is well established. And even so, it often takes 2-3 years to settle a car accident injury claim. In driverless car become the consumer reality, will there be a separate body similar to ICWA that would handle all the driverless car accident injury claim? Or, would it be handled by each manufacturer? The transition between driver control car society and driverless car society may take a few decades. In the transition period, there may be many agencies to handle matters for each type of car accident injury compensation. Where would funding for these agencies be from? In the worst case scenario for the driverless car accident victims, do they have to proof fault and sue separate parties individually?
In conclusion, driverless car technology is breakdown in human mobility technology. The future of this technology will depend on the consumer acceptance. Appropriate assurance and modification of current legal and regulatory framework should be considered to accommodate the development of driverless cars. All these changes will take time.
Christian Foyle is the director of Foyle Legal, a personal injury law firm is Western Australia. He has been representing clients in car accident personal injury claims in Western Australia since early 2000s. He has a special interest in driverless car technology.
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