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Eversheds comment: Advent of driverless cars in UK will make accident diagnosis increasingly difficult

  • United Kingdom

    31-07-2014

    Commenting on the news that driverless cars are to be allowed on UK public roads, Peter Shervington, Product Liability Expert at law firm Eversheds, says:

    "The trend of shifting responsibility away from the motorist towards vehicle and parts manufacturers has a long history: the introduction of electronic engine management systems in the 1990s took everyday maintenance largely out of the realm of the DIY enthusiast and placed greater responsibility for servicing (and legal liability for failures in servicing) in the hands of manufacturers and their authorised service networks. More recently, the development of hybrid and fully electric vehicles has placed key choices as to how vehicles should behave in the event of a battery malfunction in the hands of the manufacturer: should they instruct the vehicle to stop altogether, or allow it to continue so that the driver can reach a place of refuge?

    "Of course, consumers have relied for several decades on cruise control systems provided by the vehicle manufacturers. However, the introduction of the driverless vehicle means that, rather than drivers and their insurers arguing between themselves in the event of an accident, the vehicle manufacturers will be brought into legal proceedings as a matter of routine. Driver error is currently by far the most common cause of deaths and injuries on the road. We are still some time off the use of driverless vehicles by the general public. However, in preparation for that day, manufacturers and dealers will need to communicate very clearly to purchasers quite what the limits of their systems are, and to what extent the driver retains responsibility and/or an ability to override the automatic systems.

    “However clear the message, the risk for the manufacturer is that whenever an accident occurs there will be an assumption that a fault in the system is to blame. Given the astonishing complexity of vehicle electronic systems, getting to the bottom of why an accident has occurred is going to become an increasing headache for everyone involved."

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