A new report has called for the introduction of clear UK standards for vehicles that can switch between autonomous and human driving, to help decide who would be liable for a crash during the ‘handover’ period between the two modes.
The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, would see third party liability for ‘automated’ vehicles fall on insurers, noted the VENTURER report, from insurer AXA and law firm Burges Salmon.
However, with many vehicles set to arrive on the market with lower levels of automation that require a handover of control between the driver and vehicle, there could be a grey area for liability, said the report – particularly if a crash occurs during this handover.
David Williams, AXA UK’s Technical Director, said that the company had long supported the emergence of driverless cars.
“People must understand, however, what the vehicles are capable of and, very importantly, what the law allows us to do (or not do) when travelling in them,” said Williams.
“Handover presents a complication for the basic liability model: how can we apportion responsibility between human driver and the vehicle fairly?”
Current UK law expects the driver to be responsible for the vehicle at all times. But this could create issues if there is a delay in the driver resuming control from an autonomous system, say the authors.
Trials by the VENTURER project, which is investigating human factors relating to driverless vehicles, have shown that it takes drivers almost three seconds to regain full control of a vehicle when travelling at just 20mph.
“Setting the boundaries of driver and autonomous system liability will require a detailed understanding of how users interact with technology,” said Chris Jackson, Head of Transport at Burges Salmon.
“Defining the parameters of handover is an important step in delivering the driverless experience which people will expect.”
The report calls on government and industry to put in place new standards that reflect the real-world capability of drivers and do not stifle the development of automated vehicles by unfairly penalising motorists.
In addition, manufacturers should design in safety and develop handover processes that reflect drivers’ true capabilities, say the authors.