Driverless Cars: A Liability Update

Further to our article on driverless cars where we touched on the issue of who is liable for an accident, it is interesting to note that Volvo has now announced that it will accept full responsibility for any accidents caused by its driverless vehicles while in autonomous mode.

The move by Volvo brings driverless cars one step closer to reality, as uncertainty over liability for a driverless car accident is a major barrier to the implementation of such on our roads. Volvo joins other driverless car manufactures including Mercedes-Benz and Google, who have also stated that they would accept liability for collisions caused by their cars.

Volvo has however made it clear that if a customer misuses their technology that then leads to an accident, or if another road user causes the accident, Volvo will not be to blame and therefore they cannot accept liability.

But has this admission of liability has really changed anything at all?

If the accident was caused by the driverless car in autonomous mode then this suggests that there was some sought of fault with the technology. Manufactures must exercise a reasonable degree of care when designing their products and under Australian Consumer Law manufacturers can be held responsible for safety defects in their products that lead to injury or damage and must compensate the injured party accordingly.

Therefore if the accident was caused by a manufacturer defect then a claim could be brought against the manufacturer i.e. Volvo.

While this admission of liability has assisted in removing some speculation over who is liable for accidents involving driverless cars, the admission made by Volvo will no doubt still need some fine tuning. Their bold statement that they will accept full responsibility for any accidents caused by its driverless vehicles while in autonomous mode perhaps needs to be more specific. For example will their admission extend to cars outside their warranty period? Do they stand by their technology to last the lifetime of a vehicle – 15-20 years or will their admission only apply to their cars less than so many years old?

Regardless of the answer to this question, legislative changes will still need to be made so that claims for compensation can be properly dealt with as outlined in our previous article.

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