By: 17 February 2016
Liability problems lie ahead with driverless cars, says Horwich Farrelly

Horwich Farrelly has warned that the growth of driverless cars on public roads will cause problems when proving liability in motor accidents.

Malcolm Henke, head of large loss the insurance industry law firm, has said that the transitional phase in the near future, during which both driverless and driven cars occupy the same roads, could cause problems for lawyers attempting to establish liability in the event of collisions.

“This cynic guesses that when civil liability is investigated the machine will come out on top in a majority of cases but it could be an interesting and lengthy period,” said Henke.

However, he said that there will also inevitably be failures of technology.  “Responsibility for such events must lie with the manufacturers or those responsible for maintenance but how easy will that be to prove?”

Henke also said that governments looking to push driverless cars to improve road safety could be faced with a backlash from the public. He said that a large proportion of the driving population would see such a move as one that deprived them of the pleasure of driving.

“It could be a politically difficult set of laws for a government to introduce,” he said.

He added that the mass emergence of driverless cars was no longer the realm of science fiction.

“[It is] rapidly approaching reality,” he said. “Indeed, Google published a letter, [last week] that it received from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which said the driverless system could be given the same legal definition as a real human driver.”

The NHTSA document said: “If no human occupant of the vehicle can actually drive the vehicle, it is more reasonable to identify the driver as whatever (as opposed to whoever) is doing the driving.”