AutosThe UK holds carmakers liable in autonomous vehicle dilemma

The UK holds carmakers liable in autonomous vehicle dilemma

The technology of autonomous driving is more advanced than what is possible with the cars available in showrooms. The law is the limiting factor.
The technology of autonomous driving is more advanced than what is possible with the cars available in showrooms. The law is the limiting factor.
Images source: © WP | Tomasz Budzik
2:11 PM EST, November 11, 2023

One of the main hurdles impeding autonomous vehicle technology advancement is the lack of legal regulations concerning accidents. The UK, in anticipation of overcoming this obstacle, is gearing up to address this issue, much to the joy of drivers.

According to Automotive News Europe, UK authorities have conceived a plan for attributing responsibility for a road accident involving an autonomous car. The inclusion of vehicles that function without a human would certainly be a milestone. An automatic system would not succumb to fatigue, aggression, or the influence of alcohol while ensuring optimal assessment of situations. Also, information sharing between vehicles and the cloud will be crucial.

However, the fact remains unchanged that autonomous cars will be entangled in accidents. The legal issue of responsibility for such occurrences is yet to be resolved. Presently, the person occupying the driver's seat is accountable in such circumstances. But, is this reasonable? In a scenario where a car was supposed to function independently, it's quite possible that misplaced trust in technology or a distraction could lead to a situation where a human fails to rectify a machine's mistake.

With the evolution of technology, the issue of liability stands to become more crucial. Currently, we are embarking on the third of the five levels of autonomy as defined by the SAE organization. This stage enables a car to self-drive under specific situations - for instance, on a highway. Mercedes appears to be leading in this aspect. The fourth stage entails the car driving autonomously under various scenarios, but during harsh conditions like heavy snowfall or fog, it's expected to alert the driver. If they don't react, the car will come to a halt. By the fifth stage, cars will be able to function without steering wheels or pedals.

The fifth stage makes it complicated to attribute the cause of an accident to a car user, particularly in a model lacking a steering wheel. Hence, UK authorities intend to enact laws making car manufacturers liable for collisions involving autonomous cars. Such legislation can lead to significant ramifications, including potential criminal charges against car manufacturers in extreme cases.

Simultaneously, British law seeks to elevate the standards required for showcasing autonomous car features to customers. If an autonomous system cannot assure total autonomy, it must not be advertised as such.

The proposed British legislation is the solution that drivers have been seeking. Once implemented, those investing in cars with autonomous features need not fear wasting their investment. Although the industry might not be ecstatic about this, it's undoubtedly preferable to having no solution. The question still remains whether this British model will be replicated in other parts of Europe.

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