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Autonomous Vehicles – Insurance and Driver Liability Addressed

New rules for the insurance of autonomous vehicles were put forward last week in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill. The government says that the aim of the measures is to "help the UK to become a world leader in these technologies by breaking down some of the barriers that could limit companies from testing them here".

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to be hugely disruptive. The Government and their other advocates claim that they will be safer and more environmentally friendly than non-autonomous vehicles and improve social mobility and productivity.  In the process, autonomous vehicles are expected to cause significant disruption across the automotive industry and to haulage, logistics and transport services.  But there are significant legal, regulatory and technical issues which the Government, the automotive and insurance industries need to address and resolve to enable the widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles.

In February 2015, the Government concluded that the UK's legal and regulatory framework was no barrier to the testing of autonomous vehicles on UK public roads. It's conclusions are set out in a document titled, "Pathway to Driverless Cars" which also sets out the Government's plans to facilitate the testing and development of such vehicles in the UK.

In accordance with that plan, the Government last week presented the Vehicle and Technology Aviation Bill ("VTA Bill") to the House of Commons for its first reading.  The VTA Bill, amongst other matters, sets out new rules for the insurance of autonomous vehicles.

Insurance Requirements

The VTA Bill requires insurers to offer insurance policies which provide the owner of the vehicle with cover when either the driver is in control of vehicle or the vehicle is in autonomous mode, which is a sensible, consumer-friendly and expected development.

In situations where the autonomous vehicle is involved in an accident which was not the fault of the claimant, the insurer would compensate the claimant. Matters such as attribution of liability and recovery of damages would occur in the background between insurers and those persons who may have a share of liability including the vehicle manufacturer, vehicle and parts service providers, software developers and/or data providers.

The VTA Bill also permits insurers to exclude liability where the insured has knowingly permitted alterations to the vehicle's operating system and/or knowingly failed to install software updates and such alterations or failure to install the software update caused or contributed to the cause of the accident.

Next Steps

The Bill is due to be considered by the House of Commons at its second reading on 6 March.

There are a number of other legal and regulatory issues associated with their development, testing and deployment which still need to be addressed and resolved. The Government plans to address each of these over the next two years.  In addition to the many legal and regulatory challenges, there are privacy, data collection and sharing, intellectual property and product liability issues which those involved in the design and production of autonomous vehicles, their components and software need to be considering and resolving in order to facilitate the widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles and related technology on public roads. 

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